As lawmakers across the country spar over how to prevent mass shootings, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Tuesday announced proposals to combat gun violence two days after the attack that killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio, and shocked a country grieving another massacre in El Paso.
The Republican leader called on the state legislature to increase gun background checks and pass a law on “safety protection orders” allowing the court-ordered removal of guns from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
DeWine also urged improvements to the state’s mental health resources and stricter penalties for the illegal purchase and possession of firearms, saying that many of his recommendations were already in the works but have taken on new urgency in the wake of the tragedy that struck Dayton’s historic Oregon District early Sunday morning.
“Do something!” a woman shouted as DeWine prepared to speak from the podium, echoing the frustrated chants that drowned out the governor’s remarks at a Sunday vigil.
The chanters were “absolutely right,” DeWine said Tuesday. “We must do something. And that is exactly what we are going to do.”
Under the safety protection orders DeWine outlined, a person’s firearms would be taken away if a judge finds clear and convincing evidence they pose a threat — for example, because of suicide plans, mental health issues, substance abuse or “violent tendencies.” The orders, the governor said, will allow people who notify law enforcement about loved ones to get them quick help.
DeWine is also asking lawmakers to pass a law requiring background checks for all firearm sales in the state, with exceptions for some cases such as gifts between family members. And he proposed stiffening the punishments for people who violate existing gun ownership restrictions — for example, felons with firearms and people who illegally buy guns for others.
Connor Betts, identified by police as the gunman in the Dayton shooting, bought his gun legally, according to Dayton police. Authorities say he fired at least 41 rounds from a pistol modeled on the AR-15, which Betts modified with a brace to be shouldered in the style of a rifle.
While some mourning Betts’s victims — including Dayton’s police chief — have questioned citizens’ access to such high-powered weapons in the wake of the shooting, others have focused on Betts’s troubled history. Despite his minimal adult criminal record, the 24-year-old struggled with mental health issues and was once caught compiling a “hit list” of people he wanted to harm or kill, friends and classmates told The Washington Post.
DeWine also emphasized the need for better mental health resources in his remarks Tuesday, echoing other Republican leaders’ responses to mass shootings. President Trump has emphasized combating mental illness and called for “strong background checks.” Democratic leaders have advocated expanded background checks as well as new restrictions on the kinds of guns civilians can own, challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to call lawmakers to Congress for an emergency session and pass more stringent gun-control laws after the weekend’s shootings.
DeWine said Ohio should free up beds in its psychiatric hospitals for those who need care most urgently and encourage early intervention to help troubled young people. A budget already approved by the state’s General Assembly invests $675 million in student mental health.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety is expanding its ability to monitor threatening language on social media, too, DeWine said.
“We’re looking for that sign from a violent offender that might save a life or 10 lives,” he said.
Asked about Betts’s ability to kill with a powerful weapon and magazines holding up to 100 rounds, DeWine said some issues would have to be dealt with at the federal level. He said he’s focusing on proposals that he believes can pass in Ohio, adding that state leaders have been talking with “the Second Amendment community” to get buy-in from guns rights proponents.
DeWine said he will never forget what he saw touring the Oregon District after the shooting. He recalled crime scene tape, bullet markings, the abandoned cart with food still sitting where a vendor had been gunned down.
DeWine praised Ohioans’ resilience and framed the tragedy as a chance to push reforms forward.
“Now is a window of opportunity for us to change things, to do what we need to do,” he said.