COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – The mass shooting in Dayton launched the Ohio STRONG initiative, an effort by Governor Mike DeWine to address gun violence and mental health issues across the state.
Prior to that, Democrats at the Statehouse had long been pushing for what they called common-sense gun legislation, one area being Red Flag laws, laws meant to keep guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves or others.
Even DeWine’s predecessor Governor John Kasich laid out proposals for things he called common-sense legislation that dealt with keeping guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves or others.
DeWine has followed suit and released most of the information about a proposed Red Flag-style bill his administration has put together.
They are creating the bill with the help of pro-second amendment advocates who felt Kasich’s version didn’t do enough to protect due process rights of gun owners.
Kasich’s proposal, by the way, was created by a task force of people he says represented all points of the spectrum when it came to the Second Amendment.
His Red Flag proposal didn’t get far at the Statehouse last General Assembly, and neither did the Democrats’ bills, all dying as session came to a close at the end of December.
Shortly thereafter, Kasich left office and the Democrats refiled their bills. The status quo seemed to be on its railroad tracks, that is, until the mass shooting in Dayton.
After the shooting, one of the bills filed early in this General Assembly, SB 19, was refiled with a new joint sponsor, Republican State Senator Peggy Lehner, and a new number, SB 184.
The original bill was a solo sponsored bill from Democratic State Senator Sandra Williams and was the Red Flag Law bill she and former State Senator Joe Schiavoni had introduced late last year.
Tuesday, Williams’ original bill was given its first hearing; Lehner did not testify.
After explaining her bill to the committee, Williams took questions.
At first, only Democrats questioned her. Then, State Senator Theresa Gavarone spoke up, wanting to know more about how the bill was different than what is currently available to people seeking relief from individuals who could potentially do them harm.
In the end, Williams stated she was willing to work with lawmakers who had concerns about the due process portion of her bill, and was even willing to adjust it to closer reflect what the governor is proposing.
Here are the big differences between the two, her bill and the administration’s proposal:
Williams’ bill seeks to hold the guns seized for up to one year. The governor is asking for 180 days, roughly six months.
In Williams’ bill, seizing the guns starts with an ex parte hearing, where a hearing is held outside the presence of the person accused of being a danger to themselves or others and a decision is made whether or not to seize their guns. Following that, a hearing would then be set for sometime in the next two weeks, where all parties could make their case for a longer hold on the guns.
In the governor’s proposal, things start differently. The person someone thinks is a danger to themselves or others is notified they will have a hearing within the next three days. They get to keep their guns until the outcome of that hearing. If the decision made to seize the guns goes forward, it is temporary and another hearing will be held up to two weeks later where the parties can make their case for a longer hold on the guns.
Some have argued that allowing someone who is a possible danger to themselves or others to keep their guns for any length of time defeats the purpose of this bill, that notifying someone that the window for using their weapons to inflict harm on themselves or others is possibly closing could even incite violence.
Others have argued that the accused could be “pink slipped,” which is to involuntarily commit them to a hospital.
In those situations, the individual gets no due process as the decision to move forward with that is done, you guessed it, ex parte.
The “pink slip” method is already in state law and has been leaned on by pro-Second Amendment advocates in the past as an alternative.
The differences don’t stop there.
The level or evidentiary quality is also at odds between both the bill and the governor’s proposal.
Williams’ bill calls for reasonable cause and a preponderance of the evidence, which is saying there is a reasonable expectation the accused is more likely than not going to do something to harm themselves or others.
The governor’s proposal, however, calls for probable cause and clear and convincing evidence, which both carry higher legal standards. Clear and convincing evidence means it is highly probable and more likely than not. Probable cause is often heard when bringing criminal action against an individual.
The final difference between the bill and the proposal is the penalties for falsely accusing someone of being a danger to themselves or others. This is the teeth of the law that is meant to prevent people from abusing it and wasting everyone’s time, especially that of the court, which is already pretty busy.
Williams’ bill calls for false claims to carry a 3rd-degree misdemeanor charge.
The DeWine administration has not officially announced what kind of penalty it is planning to seek for this part of the bill.
Everything else about the bill and the proposal appears to be in sync. Both have provisions for returning the gun and ammunition early if the person is deemed to not be a danger to themselves or others anymore. Both have provisions for extending the order if it needs to be as the time limit comes to a close.
The hearings would be conducted in the same courts in both the bill and administration proposal, and seemingly initiated by the same individuals.
If, or when, SB 19 gets another hearing, it will be at the pleasure of the committee chairman. It is unclear if they will switch over to SB 184 or just keep moving forward with SB 19.
As mentioned before, both are identical other than the sponsors.
Advocates for Red Flag legislation want to hear from Lehner and are hoping SB 184 gets its own first hearing so she can address her Republican colleagues on the committee in an attempt to convince them that now is the time to work on and pass this legislation.