COLUMBUS — Hoping to capitalize on national momentum and passionate rallies in the wake of the latest school massacre, Democratic state legislators in Ohio feel empowered to push a variety of gun-control legislation.
On Monday, a pair of Democratic senators, including a retired Cincinnati police officer, unveiled a package of gun-safety legislation that includes increasing the minimum age to buy a firearm and requiring that guns be registered with law enforcement.
"As a lawmaker, it is my duty to represent the people, and the people have spoken: Enough is enough, and it should have been enough many years ago," said Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, the former police officer. "These bills are meant to create a more-regulated process that makes it harder for guns to fall into the hands of criminals."
On the heels of marches in Columbus and around the nation, where hundreds of thousands of people called for gun-control laws in the wake of another mass shooting, this time at a Florida school, Thomas and Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, a candidate for governor, unveiled proposals that they say are aimed at curbing violence.
The package includes what Thomas called common-sense provisions:
• Universal background checks
• Closing the "gun-show loophole" for private dealers.
• Raising the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21.
• Creating a gun registry.
Democratic legislators have been proposing various gun legislation, but the Republican majorities in the two chambers have not indicated their intent to propose or pass any such bills. They have yet to take action on a list of gun proposals from Gov. John Kasich, a fellow Republican who four weeks ago rolled out six gun measures developed from a private work group of gun-rights supporters and gun-control advocates.
Kasich’s proposals include banning bump stocks, which can turn semi-automatic rifles into automatic weapons; allowing law enforcement to temporarily seize guns from those proved to be a threat; prohibiting possession of a gun by those who have been convicted of domestic violence or are subject to a protection order; and prohibiting armor-piercing bullets.
"No matter where you stand on Second Amendment issues, everyone wants to see a reduction in gun violence," said Kasich spokesman Jon Keeling, who declined to comment on the Democratic proposals. "It’s our hope the initiatives proposed by the governor’s bipartisan group of leaders will soon find their way to his desk for his signature."
Talking about the gun issue Sunday on CNN, Kasich said: "If they do not bring about change, I think people should absolutely be held accountable at the ballot box."
Democratic legislators have introduced legislation similar to some of Kasich’s proposals. In addition to Thomas' package of bills, Democrats on Monday also introduced "red flag" legislation to restrict gun access for a person deemed dangerous, and a proposal jointly sponsored by Sen. Charleta B. Tavares, D-Columbus, to require proper storage of a gun if a minor is in the home.
Thomas said a bill he introduced in October to ban bump stocks has not had a hearing.
Some Ohio and national groups will continue to fight the changes. Chris Dorr, director of an organization called Ohio Gun Owners, said in a news release that "we won't give an inch, and we won't back down."
Dorr called the Saturday gun-safety march in Columbus a "gun-grabbers event" and a "one-day public-relations stunt."
"Ever since the Florida murder rampage, our legislature has felt the force of gun-control activists who have been crawling through the Statehouse to try to hammer gun-control bills into law," Dorr said.
The group posted a video on Facebook showing one of the Columbus marchers spitting at them.
At Thomas' press conference, Ryan Cook, 20, a University of Cincinnati student from Marysville, said his family often shot clay pigeons, and he understands why people enjoy shooting guns. But pointing to U.S. statistics on gun violence and suicides compared with those in other developed countries, he said it's time to re-evaluate the gun issue, "not to curtail the good gun owners, but make it safer for everyone else."
"It seems like the United States is the only one with this gun problem," Cook said. "It's not that the United States is more violent. It's because our crimes are more deadly."
A pair of Senate Republicans also introduced a gun-related bill on Monday. It would grant civil immunity to a gun dealer who refuses to sell a gun to someone.
(Jim Siegel is a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch)