Politicians love anniversaries, especially those recalling tragic events. Every time an anniversary of such a public event occurs — whether the first, fifth, tenth or twenty-fifth — some politician will rush to remind the public of the past event as a way to position himself or herself as a true leader, by calling for the government to do whatever it is they want done that would have prevented the prior tragedy or which they claim will prevent its recurrence.
This past week, amidst the myriad problems relating to the COVID pandemic and the recurring violence destroying lives, property and businesses in cities across the country, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine used the bully pulpit of his office to again call for the state legislature to pass gun control measures he has long championed. The timing for his latest call was the anniversary of a shooting spree last August 4th by an individual outside a Dayton, Ohio bar who fatally shot nine people before he was shot dead by police.
In the immediate aftermath of that 2019 shooting, DeWine issued a call for the legislature to pass a long list of gun control measures, including many that bore no relationship to the manner by which the Dayton shooter — a 26-year old white male with antifa sympathies — was able to obtain the firearm he used to carry out his horrific crime.
Included in DeWine’s proposal were measures constituting what has become known in recent years as a “Red Flag Law.” Such a law empowers law enforcement officers and other individuals including friends or relatives of a gun owner, to obtain a court order directing police to seize all firearms possessed by the person against whom the order is directed, based on allegations that the individual poses a threat to himself or others. A number of states already have passed such measures, despite their constitutional infirmities. DeWine’s initial legislative package also called for what would amount to a statewide “universal” background check system for virtually all firearms transfers including those between private, law-abiding citizens.
Thus far, Ohio’s legislature has shown little interest in passing such far-reaching legislation, despite DeWine’s pressing.
In the face of this legislative resistance, DeWine later in 2019 backed away from some of the more problematic provisions in what he cleverly titled his “STRONG Ohio” bill, including those that would have directly and formally established a Red Flag Law. However, the details of his proposed law clearly move toward just such a law, and he continues to press for other problematic provisions, including opening the door to a potential firearms registry for transfers between private persons.
Like many gun control advocates holding public office, DeWine appears drawn to the limelight rather than the hard work of dealing with the legislature and the public to enact meaningful measures that would address actual problems but still within both the letter and the intent of the Second Amendment and other provisions in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. In fact, hidden within his proposals are some measures that could provide the basis for such action.
If, instead of grandstanding before the media on the anniversary of a tragedy that already constituted a criminal act, the Governor worked hard to craft more limited legislation and budgetary measures that address known deficiencies in laws designed already to keep firearms out of the hands of persons not allowed under long-standing federal to possess them, he likely would have far more success. But then again, that is much harder than calling a news conference and restating the time-worn trope that “Doing nothing is simply not an option,” as he did last week.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and served as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.