COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown and Police Chief Robin Lees joined other leaders across the state in Columbus Thursday to talk about gun legislation.
Nearly two dozen mayors and police chiefs from all over Ohio came together at the Statehouse, presumably to show lawmakers how true bipartisanship works.
The group is calling on lawmakers to set aside political differences and pass what they are calling common-sense gun regulations that Governor Mike DeWine is proposing in his STRONG Ohio initiative.
Many of those initiatives are already underway or have been paid for in the state operating budget, but a major component still needs to be addressed — the extreme protection order, also referred to as a Red Flag law.
The coalition of mayors and police chiefs discussed how their political alignments and philosophies did not matter one iota after the mass shooting that happened in Dayton last month.
Deaths of innocent people have stripped them of their desire to quibble and they have found common ground in attempting to move legislation they all agree will make Ohioans safer.
Now they just need to convince some Ohio lawmakers to do the same.
“Ohioans in Dayton and across the state want their elected officials to ‘do something’ to address gun violence. Now is the time to answer that call and get dangerous weapons out the hands of dangerous people,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who was there.
Trying to help them do that is Republican State Senator Peggy Lehner, who was contrite.
“I apologize for taking so long to get here,” she said. “I have supported the things that you have been doing for a long time, but I have been way too quiet about it.”
Lehner hasn’t been quiet this week. She took on two of her colleagues in a committee meeting Tuesday, challenging them as they pushed back against the Red Flag law bill she is jointly sponsoring in a bipartisan way with State Senator Sandra Williams, a Democrat.
For years, the Republican-controlled legislature has loosened gun laws in Ohio, only tightening them in some areas and often after the federal government has done so as well — or appears to be on the path to doing so.
The coalition was joined by Democrat leaders in the Senate. Lehner was by herself but she said she has colleagues who also support reforms.
“They need encouragement.”
Those too ashamed or scared to openly espouse such support could be under the thumb of a situation Lehner is free of now that she is term-limited and unable to run again as a state senator.
According to her, while campaign money from the National Rifle Association may be the reason some lawmakers choose to support their agenda, such reasoning is not widespread.
Instead, she said it’s the NRA’s reach that has lawmakers on a short leash.
If the NRA deems a lawmaker is not worthy of holding office, they will make sure their members know about it. Because NRA members vigorously exercise their right to vote, according to Lehner, that could be enough to cause a politician to lose their race.
As Lehner put it, nothing speaks louder to politicians than the fact that they’re going to win an election.
As such, Lehner said, in order to get lawmakers to fear the people more than the NRA, it must be made very clear — for every voter who votes for the NRA’s agenda, there’s 10 who vote against it.
The only civilian on the stage with the coalition Thursday was Whitney Austin, a survivor of the mass shooting that happened in Cincinnati last September.
Yes, there was a mass shooting in Cincinnati last year and three people died.
Austin was shot 12 times in the arm, right side and across her chest. None of the bullets hit any major arteries or organs.
She has since started an organization called Whitney Strong that seeks to bring gun owners to the table and convince them that now is the time to commit to common-sense changes that will protect people.
Austin’s organization is seeking responsible gun owners to buy into issues like the Red Flag laws that are being proposed.
“People are really interested right now and we do not need to allow this momentum to wane,” Austin said. “We need to keep the energy up and we need to make a change. Making incremental progress is better than no progress, so let’s pull everyone together and get to the best solution that we can.”
But there is still fear that despite the show of solidarity, despite the shedding of political party barriers, this will all just fade away because eventually, people will move on with their lives and the shooting in Dayton will become less than an afterthought — like the shooting in Cincinnati has for many.
Austin doesn’t have that fear and neither do the members of the coalition who came to the Statehouse Thursday.
“I think that’s the fear for people that are not victims and people that are not survivors, but those of us that have had an intimate experience with gun violence, we’re not gonna forget and we are very loud,” he said. “The more and more close we get to critical mass, the more we will not be able to be ignored. So we will not give up. We just need you all to not give up.”
Other officials who went to the coalition include:
- Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Police Chief Eliot Isaac
- Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and Interim Police Chief Thomas Quinlan
- Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl
- Kettering Mayor Don Patterson
- Lancaster Mayor David Scheffler and Police Chief Adam Pillar
- Lima Mayor David Berger and Police Chief Kevin Martin
- Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. and Acting Police Chief Scott Reeve
- Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland