The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
More Ohioans died from firearms in 2021 than almost any year on record, according to preliminary data from the Ohio Department of Health.
With more data set to come in over the next several months, at least 1,762 Ohioans died from firearms last year, just two shy of the record-setting year of 2020.
This amounts to a 62% increase from 2007, the earliest data available, when 1,085 Ohioans died at the barrel of a gun. In comparison, gun deaths rose nationally by about 27% during the same period according to data from the CDC.
Of the more than 20,700 Ohioans’ gun deaths between 2007 and the present day, about 86% of the victims were male.
The Republican-dominated Ohio legislature has steadily relaxed state gun laws during the period in question. Lawmakers have expanded the right to shoot to kill in perceived self-defense, limited cities’ ability to adopt gun control laws stricter than the state level via “preemption” laws, and decreased training requirements to carry a concealed weapon.
The push continues. On Thursday, a state House committee held a hearing on legislation to remove the requirement that Ohioans obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Currently, the law requires eight hours of training and a background check in order to carry a concealed weapon. Under the “constitutional carry” bill, all Ohioans 21 and older would be able to carry a firearm they lawfully possess.
The Ohio House has already passed a constitutional carry bill. The committee is reviewing a separate but identical bill that the Senate passed last month. Should the House pass the Senate's bill, it would go to Gov. Mike DeWine, who has indicated privately to the firearms advocates that he’ll sign it.
Public health researchers and anti-gun violence researchers draw links between relaxed gun policies and homicide rates and others. For instance, researchers with the American Journal for Public Health found states with permitless carry laws were associated with an 11% increase in handgun homicide rates. The National Bureau of Economic Researchers found states experienced about a 14% higher rate of violent crime after adopting a new concealed carry permitting system similar to Ohio's current one.
“Our state is experiencing a gun violence crisis and we need stronger gun laws,” said Michelle Heym, a volunteer with the Ohio chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Ohio has some of the weakest gun safety laws in the nation, and yet our lawmakers continue to consider policies to gut the few public safety measures we have left. If that happens, gun deaths will only continue to rise."
Gun rights advocates and lobbyists downplay the link. Rob Sexton, a lobbyist with the Buckeye Firearms Association, noted 2018 research from the American College of Surgeons that identified no statistical association between states loosening their gun laws and homicide or violent crime rates. (The ACS advocates, however, for limiting gun sales to people with mental illnesses, increasing penalties for illegal gun sales, and funding public health research on guns.)
Sexton said a “building sense of anarchy within the criminal element,” coupled with weak enforcement and bail policies is behind the gun crimes.
“Add that to the handcuffing and demonization of law enforcement it’s no surprise to us that crime is on the rise,” he said.
Earlier this week, The Columbus Dispatch reported Mayor Andrew Ginther declared gun violence to be a public health crisis within the city. This spurs coordination between the health department and city hall to coordinate on this issue. The mayor condemned inaction from state and federal lawmakers and rulings from judges that have “severely limited our ability to move the needle on gun violence.”