This was the year Ohio saw a dramatic tone shift when it comes to gun policies, with Gov. John Kasich positioning himself against the Legislature.
For seven years the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Gov. John Kasich worked in tandem to enact many pro-gun bills. Kasich ran for re-election in 2014 with the NRA’s endorsement. He signed several pieces of legislation to extend rights for concealed carry permit holders. And measures like the “Stand Your Ground” bill, which makes it easier to use lethal force in self-defense, seemed to have momentum.
But in February, all that changed.
“A gunman opened fire on a high school in south Florida this afternoon. The shooting was at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the city of Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people were killed. A suspect is in custody. He’s 19-years-old," NPR reported.
Just days after the mass high school shooting in Parkland, Florida Kasich seemed to change course when it came to guns. The pro-Second Amendment page on his website was wiped out just hours after he appeared on national news shows. And the “Stand Your Ground” bill, which had a hearing just one day before the Parkland shooting, went dark for two months.
Democratic Representative David Leland of Columbus saw it as a time to shift focus to other things like education, jobs and healthcare. “Of all the issues that we need to be dealing with as a legislature, I don’t think we need eight different pieces of legislation dealing with expanding gun rights in the state of Ohio," he said.
Then, less than a month after the Parkland shooting, Kasich released a list of what he called “common sense” gun regulations. That list included closing gaps on the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, cracking down on “straw man” purchases, banning armor-piercing ammo, outlawing bump stocks, and -- perhaps the most controversial piece -- the “red flag law” which allows the court to take a gun away from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others. “This is something they have to work on. I don’t intend to browbeat them. I’m going to encourage them every step of the way,” Kasich said.
The national rhetoric for more gun control was still building. Even then-House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger seemed open to talking about possible regulations, but added that it’s difficult to legislate personal behavior. “And somebody wanting to do something bad is always going to find an avenue to be able to do that. What we need to do is of course make sure we’re doing whatever it is possible to make it tough for those that want to do something bad into the future,” Rosenberger said in March.
But after another month, that eagerness to find common ground waned. The “Stand Your Ground” bill was back in committee, while Kasich’s proposals never got a hearing in the House.
There are more than 100 references to firearms in the list of bill titles introduced by the General Assembly this session. There was a bill that allowed someone to carry a concealed weapon into a gun-free zone as long as -- if they were caught -- they left without incident; a bill to allow someone to carry a concealed weapon without getting a permit and training; a bill to require criminal background checks before selling a gun, closing the so-called “gun show loophole;” and a bill to ban so-called “assault weapons.”
None of those bills passed.
A few others did though.
A measure to allow tactical medical professionals, such as EMTs that work with SWAT teams, to carry firearms while on duty. Kasich signed that bill. Another bill allowed veterans to get their concealed carry permit without going through civilian training. Kasich allowed that bill to go into law without his signature.
But the focus consistently centered on the “Stand Your Ground” bill. In December, the Senate finally passed the measure but took the “Stand Your Ground” language out. That means the “duty to retreat” remained in law.
Chris Dorr with Ohio Gun Owners said the new language did not go far enough to appease his members. “In states where the burden of proof is already on the prosecution to disprove a self-defense claim, gun owners already sit in jail so this idea that we’ve switched that over is a huge get for gun owners, it’s not,” Dorr said.
But Kasich vetoed the bill, citing his objections to other changes in self-defense laws and the General Assembly’s unwillingness to move his “red flag law.” “Why would I sign a bill that gives more power to the gun advocates?” Kasich asked.
Next year, the Statehouse could see yet another change in the tide when Governor-elect Mike DeWine takes office. He supports “Stand Your Ground,” but he also sees merit in the “red flag laws” if there’s due process.
The Ohio House and Senate could return later this week and have signaled that they might override Kasich’s veto of the pro-gun bill that deals with self-defense.