In the wake of the shooting deaths of 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school, a pair of Ohio Senate Democrats introduced a bill to ban the possession of assault-style rifles and require the registration of gun purchases in Ohio.
The legislation from Sens. Mike Skindell, of Lakewood, and Charleta B. Tavares, of Columbus, would make it a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up a year in prison, to possess or acquire an assault weapon.
Skindell said the bill unveiled on Tuesday would require current owners of assault weapons to dispose of them through an out-of-state sale or by storing them outside Ohio.
"The recent, sorrowful events in Florida and Nevada and so many more places teach us why it is important to ban weapons that are meant for waging war," Skindell said in a statement.
"While we cannot stop every act of suffering inflicted upon the public, it is our responsibility to limit access to these assault weapons. Until better national standards are enacted to regulate the sale of these dangerous assault weapons, Ohio should have its own regulations to protect the public," he said.
Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said the bill "would ban almost every semi-automatic firearm," including handguns. "It would also be an enormous cost to taxpayers to copy failed ideas. This is not a hypothetical discussion anymore. Banning guns does not work."
Many steps, including better mental health treatment and others, can reduce school shootings, said Irvine, who has called for more teachers to be armed to confront assailants. "Our kids deserve better than political grandstanding. They deserve safe schools and better results," he said.
A new poll by Quinnipiac University shows 67 percent of Americans now back a ban on so-called assault weapons. Other gun control measures register strong support as well.
"If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again. Support for stricter gun laws is up nearly 19 points in little more than 2 years," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the poll.
"In the last two months, some of the biggest surges in support for tightening gun laws comes from demographic groups you may not expect, independent voters, men, and whites with no college degree."
The bill would seemingly face an uphill battle to passage in the Republican-dominated General Assembly, which for years has passed gun-friendly bills that expanded concealed-carry rights.
Assault weapons were banned under federal law between 1994 and 2004 until a federal law expired. AR-15s have been used in the mass shootings at Parkland, Florida, and in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed while attending an outdoor concert.
"Assault weapons were designed to be used by trained members of the military to kill people. These weapons, unfortunately, are killing innocent children and adults by people who want to murder, maim and terrorize large masses of people in public spaces," Tavares said in a statement.
The bill defines an assault weapon as an automatic or semi-automatic firearm capable of accommodating a detachable magazine that accepts 10 or more cartridges and a semi-automatic firearm with a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept 10 or more cartridges. Skindell and Tavares sponsored similar failed legislation in 2013.
The legislation also would require the attorney general's office to manage a registration system in which it would issue permits for the purchase of firearms and track sales of of firearms and ammunition. Ohio retailers would be required report sales of firearms and ammunition to the attorney general's office.
Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, previously introduced a bill to ban bump stocks, the device used by the Las Vegas killer to allow him to effectively convert his assault weapons into full automatic-fire.
Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, is a co-sponsor of both the bump-stock and assault weapon ban bills.
"After the gruesome act of violence against innocent school children in Florida this past week, leaders in Columbus must act — enough is enough," he said. "These bills are a crucial first step to improving public safety. My colleagues and I are serious about addressing the gun violence epidemic that is plaguing our country and schools."
Republican Gov. John Kasich also is questioning the need for private ownership of assault weapons in calling for tighter gun controls to potentially help defuse mass shootings. A page of his pro-gun record was removed from his web page and replaced by his call for "common sense" gun controls.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, and Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, wrote Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, asking him to reassign a pending gun bill to what they believe is a more-appropriate committee.
House Bill 228, the so-called "stand your ground" legislation, would remove the legal duty of a person to retreat when possible before using deadly force against an attacker in self defense. It also would enact other changes, including a reduction of the penalties for some offense involving the improper use of handguns.
The bill now before the Federalism and Interstate Relations Committee more appropriately belongs before the Criminal Justice Committee, which has experience handling gun legislation, Strahorn and Leland wrote.
"The eyes of the nation are on Ohio and we have the opportunity to show thoughtful and responsible deliberation on a bill that stands to dramatically impact criminal charging as well as penalties with regard to firearms. The Ohio legislature has a responsibility to our communities to get this right," the Democrats wrote Rosenberger.
Asked about potential gun legislation earlier Tuesday, Rosenberger spokesman Brad Miller said, "Over the past seven years, the legislature has worked with Gov. Kasich to promote safe, responsible gun ownership in our state. We all share the desire of making our schools and communities safer, and it is important that all ideas as to how to achieve that are brought forward and heard. Moving forward, the speaker will meet with the caucus to share ideas that continue to uphold Ohioans’ Second Amendment rights and ensure the safety and well-being of children and families."
The tussle over guns again flared in the governor's race.
"It is plain that we must rethink our approach to military-style weapons used to perpetrate mass shootings," Democrat Richard Cordray told the Stark County prosecutor’s annual Crime Prevention Breakfast in Canton. "Throughout my career in public office, I have supported responsible gun ownership by law-abiding citizens and I continue to do so in accord with the Second Amendment. But as a supporter of responsible gun ownership, I believe we must strongly enforce existing laws, take steps to ensure these laws are not being circumvented, and take further steps to make sure these guns don’t get into the wrong hands and are not being enhanced to engage in mass killings."
Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich pounded on a key pro-gun case fellow Democrat Cordray won when he was Ohio attorney general.
"Cordray is singularly responsible for depriving local communities of their ability to ban assault weapons ... Through his active involvement in a U. S. Supreme Court case, he also was responsible for reversing the rights of any community, anywhere in the US, for having any rights to pass any legislation affecting assault weapons. He got an A from the NRA while communities were flooded with assault weapons."
And Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor took a swipe at Attorney General Mike DeWine on Twitter: "Everyone's top priority should be keeping schools safe. But as someone else whose stance on defending our 2nd Amendment rights has 'evolved,' is DC DeWine going to flip-flop yet again and support another weapons ban? Ohio voters deserve to know."
Taylor's boss, Gov. John Kasich, changed his a page on his web side from pro-gun accomplishments to arguments in favor of limited control after saying his position had "evolved."
Randy Ludlow is a reporter with The Columbus Dispatch.