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Ohio GOP lawmaker introduces gun safety bill; includes red flag law, enhanced background checks

Cleveland-area state Sen. Matt Dolan proposed bill with mental health in mind
Election 2022 Senate Dolan
Posted at 10:09 AM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 21:34:09-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is rare for Republican lawmakers to propose a gun safety bill alone, but on Thursday morning a Northeast Ohio GOP state senator introduced legislation to reduce the threat of gun violence.

State Sen. Matt Dolan, a Republican from the suburbs of Cleveland, is one of the few remaining moderates at the Statehouse. The Chagrin Falls lawmaker ran for the U.S. Senate seat in a crowded GOP primary. His critics have said his pitfalls were his denial that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and his lack of interest in former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.

His bill is meant to address both expanding mental health services and reducing gun violence. There are five main pillars, but it resembles the STRONG Ohio bill that Gov. Mike DeWine proposed following the 2019 mass shooting in Dayton.

But Dolan argued that this bill isn't actually that huge of a change.

"If you're suffering from mental illness, you can't buy a gun — so doesn't it stand-to-reason that if the mental illness occurs after you bought the gun and you have expressed threats of violence toward yourself or others, that legal disability should apply to you until you get the help you need?" the Republican asked News 5, rhetorically, on Thursday.

The bill just expands current law to make sure Ohio has responsible gun ownership, he added.

Senate Bill 357 would add extreme risk laws, commonly known as red flag laws, to protect the public and the gun owner by temporarily removing a firearm from someone deemed by a judge to be suffering from a severe mental health condition.

“We must change the conversation on public safety in Ohio,” Dolan said. “Citizens are dying here and across our country, and far too many families are enduring unimaginable pain. Modernizing the tools we have to defeat gun violence and prevent these deaths doesn't have to be an all or nothing conversation.”

The safety protection orders are typically brought up by family members or law enforcement; however, the bill doesn't explicitly say who can and who cannot.

The probate judge could issue the protection order, directing local law enforcement to retrieve and temporarily hold the gun.

“[The bill] protects the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens while also providing the opportunity for those suffering from mental illness to get the help and treatment they need before tragedy occurs,” Dolan said.

If someone aged 18 to 21 wants to buy a gun, they would only be able to buy a rifle or shotgun that holds only a single round of ammunition if they buy the gun by themselves.

"We have to face the fact that not every 18 to 21-year-old has mental maturity and emotional maturity," the lawmaker added. "And unfortunately, we saw it play out very tragically in Texas, where an 18-year-old on his 18-year-old birthday went out and bought a gun that he used four days later. So while that is rare, we want to prevent that."

For any restricted-access firearms, they must have someone who is 25 years of age or older who must accompany them to the sale. The elder individual must co-sign an affidavit of limited responsibility for the purchase. If the younger individual commits a felony with the gun before they turn 21, the co-signer could be held civilly liable.

"Remember, at 18,19, you may not have an adult record, so any background check wouldn't show any anything anyway," he said. "So it's designed to make sure that whoever has a gun is responsibly having it."

There is an exception for young people who go into law enforcement and the military, Dolan added.

The bill also creates a seller protection order for private gun sales but doesn’t include transfers between family members. This allows a seller to require the buyer to get written clearance from a county sheriff confirming they are legally able to own a gun.

Enhanced background check databases are the next focus. The bill requires that critical information be added to state and federal law enforcement databases by the end of the next business day. This is “to better ensure the accuracy, timeliness, and effectiveness of background check results.”

The legislation would utilize American Rescue Plan Act appropriations to increase the number of mental health workers. It would also accelerate the expansion of crisis regional mental health centers, Dolan said.

“Protecting human life and safeguarding Ohioans’ constitutional rights are not mutually exclusive endeavors. I look forward to earning support the support of my colleagues and passing this commonsense legislation into law,” Dolan said.

New data from Gallup shows 92% of those surveyed favor requiring background checks for all gun sales. Eighty-six percent want to stop people who have been determined to be a danger to themselves or others from purchasing a gun, while 81% believe in allowing courts to order the confiscation of guns from said individuals. Seventy-seven percent favor enacting a 30-day waiting period for all gun sales. Seventy-six percent support raising the legal age at which someone can buy a firearm to 21. Fifty-five percent support banning the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines that can contain more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Below are some of the reactions from Ohioans.

Erick Bellomy, Ohio lead of Brady: United Against Gun Violence

"I was shocked," Bellomy said. "I could not believe what I was reading."

Bellomy was one of the many surprised Ohioans Thursday morning. He couldn’t believe he, a Democrat, was agreeing with Dolan’s safety measures.

He is not a gun owner but knows what they can do.

"I never knew the impact of gun violence until it happened to my family and seeing other families go through the same thing, the feeling that it could have been prevented in a way kind of gets you motivated," he said.

About five years ago, his dad was murdered. Since then, he dedicated his life to fighting for survivors of gun violence.

"It is not confiscating guns from Americans, it's not hurting the Second Amendment," he said. "We can preserve and protect the Second Amendment while also protecting the lives of Ohioans and Americans."

His advocacy work got him invited by President Joe Biden to attend the June signing of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. This bill provides federal funding that can be implemented into Dolan's bill, he said.

The only problem?

"I have no confidence in our House Republicans to even make a move on this," he added. "They are so neck deep when it comes to the gun lobby."

Bellomy thinks it will definitely be easier to pass in the Senate, but Dolan will have to work extremely hard to get those House members of the GOP to vote for it.

"We in Ohio are now a pro-life state, and this is a pro-life issue," he said. "And we need our both Republicans and Democrats to look at it that way. Brady is saying take actions, not sides."

Donna Walker Brown, former Cuyahoga County Republican Party Executive Committee Chair

"I support Matt Dolan in this bill and I would definitely tell other Republicans, fellow Republicans, to support him because mental health needs to be addressed when you're talking about gun laws," Walker Brown said.

The Republican gun owner said addressing mental health is essential to combating violence across the state.

"Mental health is such an important issue in the Black community and I'm glad that he did address it," she added.

Walker Brown, who is a Black woman, has been an activist in Cleveland for years, trying to rally BIPOC community members to vote for Trump and other Republican candidates like Gov. Mike DeWine.

"I'm thankful for Governor DeWine actually passing the new gun law where citizens are not required to go and take a class because the criminals, they don't go take the class, nor do they do a background check," she said. "Because at the rate the crime is in the city of Cleveland, every law-abiding citizen needs to be able to protect themselves and their property."

The bill doesn't infringe on the Second Amendment, she said.

"I think this could benefit the state, you know, just as a bipartisan bill, they need to jump on and address mental health in these new gun laws," she said. "And as long as law-abiding citizens, their Second Amendment, who are mentally capable, is not being infringed on, then I don't have a problem."

Josh Strenk, gun owner and Hiram resident

"Unfortunately, I think a lot of the blame is placed more on gun ownership than it is just on individuals," Strenk said. "I understand where he's going, he's trying to make a compromise."

Hiram gun owner Strenk said although he believes the bill may have good intentions, it still infringes on his Second Amendment rights.

"Traditionally, gun owners, we don't like to see more of our rights being taken away," he said.

In a thoughtful response, he weighed each side of the debate — noting there is a lot unknown about the bill still.

"Who is defining who should and shouldn't own a firearm?" he asked. "I think that bill just leaves a lot of that up for interpretation."

Another aspect of the bill he called "unique" was the co-sign provision.

"I guess I see it more as like a reference — in order to get a gun you have to have a reference," Strenk added. "But I feel like it wouldn't be too hard for those people just to find someone of the same mindset if they are violent."

He isn't totally against the idea, he just isn't sure what it would actually do. Plus, most gun owners don't want to cause issues, he said.

"The fear is that, you know, causing more infringement on those rights is not going to solve the problem," he said. "It's to just hurt those people instead."

Final thoughts from the Statehouse

"I think Ohioans need to know that we can have a responsible, mature conversation about public safety, mental health and responsible gun ownership," Dolan said.

Dolan’s bill is in line with public opinion about gun safety, and now his challenge is to convince his GOP colleagues to support it.

"I will protect your right to own a gun and possess the gun," he said. "It's when we start talking about the use of that gun that I think that reasonable requirements put upon to make sure that there's responsibility when you pull that trigger."

Responsible gun ownership can exist without violating someone's rights, he added.

When asked if he believed the bill would pass, he said yes. In his travels around the state, he heard from Republicans who don't believe this is a violation, he added. He also made a 'myth vs fact sheet' to send out.

He has already started talking with other lawmakers about supporting his bill — but figures DeWine will be behind him.

"I anticipate, given that there are a number of similarities to this bill, as was in his STRONG Ohio, that he will be supportive."

Early comments seem like the governor is.

"The proposed legislation contains several issues on which the Governor [sic] has been focusing, including mental health," Dan Tierney, DeWine's spokesperson told News 5. "We look forward to following the bill as it progresses through the legislative process."

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.