Aug. 18—State Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, announced legislation Thursday morning meant to combat gun violence, making another try at some of the “Strong Ohio” proposals that his own party has ignored since 2019.
“We need to change the conversation about public safety, mental health and responsible gun ownership,” Dolan said. “We can’t just let the extremes of each position dictate.”
His bill includes a “red flag” law, improved background checks, some gun-purchase restrictions and major spending on mental health services. Dolan said his bill protects Second Amendment rights.
“This bill does not ban any guns,” he said.
The Buckeye Firearms Association denounced the bill as “‘Strong Ohio’ by another name and with more promotional material.”
“This is just another attempt to pass laws we have previously opposed,” Executive Director Dean Rieck said. “There are ‘red flag’ provisions that open the door for abuse by seizing legally obtained firearms before someone is convicted of any crime. There is a so-called ‘seller’s protection certificate’ that is presented as optional, but could easily become de facto mandatory for fear of civil liability. The bill even includes an unconstitutional ‘co-signer’ mandate for firearms purchasers who are 18-21 years of age, which is blatant and arbitrary discrimination.”
Gov. Mike DeWine’s office indicated approval, if not active support.
“The proposed legislation contains several issues on which the Governor has been focusing, including mental health,” Press Secretary Dan Tierney said. “We look forward to following the bill as it progresses though the legislative process.”
“This bill is a good first step towards tackling gun violence in Ohio,” said Nan Whaley, Democratic gubernatorial nominee and former mayor of Dayton. “When I’m governor, I’ll actually fight to pass common sense legislation like this, unlike Mike DeWine. The truth is, DeWine is all talk when it comes to keeping folks safe. We’ve seen it time and time again: he’ll say he supports measures like this, but won’t lift a finger to get it passed.”
Whaley has criticized DeWine for signing several bills that loosen gun restrictions, including a “stand your ground” law, permitless concealed carry and allowing teachers to carry guns in schools with little training.
Dolan’s bill has five major provisions, according to a news release:
—In cases where a judge deems people to be a threat to themselves or others due to a “severe mental health condition,” a probate judge could issue a safety protection order for police to “retrieve and temporarily hold” that person’s firearms.
“The retrieval process will protect constitutional rights and will be conducted with a focus on law enforcement safety,” the announcement says.
—Anyone aged 18 to 21 who wants to buy a gun other than “a rifle or shotgun that holds only a single round of ammunition” would need a cosigner at least 25 years old.
“The cosigner can be held civilly liable if that purchased firearm is used or brandished during the commission of a felony offense while the buyer is under the age of 21,” the announcement says.
—Private gun sales, other than transferring guns between family members, would require written clearance from a county sheriff confirming that those involved are legally eligible to own guns.
—Speeding up and enhancing background checks by requiring “critical information” on gun buyers to be entered in state and federal law enforcement databases by the end of the following business day.
—Using American Rescue Plan Act money to encourage training more mental health workers and expand the network of regional mental health crisis centers.
Someone judged to be mentally incapacitated should not be allowed to buy a gun, a belief that has broad support, Dolan said . His bill would extend that to people who suffer mental disability after buying a gun and who show the potential for causing harm, he said.
The “red flag” provision for police to impound someone’s guns during a mental health crisis has been done in other states, Dolan said. The language of his proposal contains more due process than most others, including Florida’s, passed by a “very Republican” state government, he said.
Dolan said he’s not aware of any other state requiring a cosigner for gun purchasers 21 younger, but his bill includes an exemption for people of that age in the military or police who have had proper training.
“The 18- to 21-year-old is not banned from buying any gun,” he said.
They would just need a cosigner for a weapon that could fire multiple shots without reloading, he said.
The bill would use $85 million in ARPA funds to work with hospitals and colleges to expand the pipeline of mental health workers able to serve in counties and schools, Dolan said.
Another $90 million in ARPA money would go to build mental health crisis centers around the state, to house people who are currently in jail but really need mental health treatment, he said.
Federal ARPA dollars are a one-time appropriation. Dolan said he hopes to design the worker-training program so it becomes self-sustaining. Ongoing funding for operating the crisis centers could be from counties or from the state, he said.
The deadliest mass shooting in Dayton’s history happened in August 2019, when a gunman killed nine and injured 37 people in the Oregon District. At a memorial event, a Dayton crowd chanted “Do something!” at DeWine, leading to his introduction in October 2019 of the “Strong Ohio” bill, which called for a slate of gun reforms: improving gun background checks, expanding 72-hour mental health holds, increasing penalties for crimes committed with firearms, and more.
But that legislation has languished in the General Assembly. Instead, legislators have passed multiple bills loosening existing gun laws, which DeWine has consistently signed.
Legislators need to show their constituents they can discuss gun violence and get something done, Dolan said.
Asked why his bill might pass when similar proposals haven’t, Dolan said he didn’t think legislators were “ready to have” this discussion when “Strong Ohio” was proposed.
“I think more people are ready to have it now than perhaps they were two years ago,” he said.
Dolan said he has talked with Ohio law enforcement, prosecutors and mental health advocates in “building support” for his bill. But he hasn’t sought advance cosponsors in the legislature; he plans to do that following its filing.
Dolan served in the state House for six years, and was elected to the state Senate in 2016 from the suburbs of Cleveland. This year he ran for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who did not run for reelection. Dolan came in third in the Republican primary on May 3.
What’s in Dolan’s bill?
—A “red flag” law to temporarily take guns from people in mental crises.
—Requiring an older cosigner for gun buyers 21 years or younger for more than a single-shot weapon.
—Requiring a sheriff’s affidavit for private gun sales, except between relatives.
—Requiring information on gun buyers to be entered in state and federal background check databases by the end of the next business day.
—Using one-time federal money to increase training of mental health workers and build mental health crisis centers.