The following article was originally published in The Ohio Capital Journal and is featured on News5Cleveland.com under a content sharing agreement.
In a last-minute change, Ohio State Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, has backed out of his plan to enact a so-called red flag law in Ohio. In his place, Dolan suggested restricting future gun purchases after an individual was deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Dolan described the changes as a way to better tailor the impact of the bill.
“Speaking to the attorneys, both on the mental health law enforcement side, a few things became clear. One of them is that we stigmatize mental illness,” Dolan explained. “Number two is that we didn’t capture the right people.”
The measure now depends on “Behavioural Risk Assessments”. These reviews consider behaviors such as suicidal thoughts, collecting complaints, or making threats. It also weighs contextual factors, e.g. B. whether a person has gone through a “personal catalyst event”.
“The idea is that we want to make sure we create a system where they have an assessment done so we can help the person,” Dolan said. “And if this assessment determines that they pose a violent threat, then they are prohibited from acquiring firearms.”
Under the Dolan bill, a determination that a person is at risk of harming themselves or others would be a disability for acquiring, possessing, carrying or using a firearm.
There are already five other such disabilities in state law. In Ohio, fugitives, convicted felons, persons convicted of crimes that would have been felonies when they were juveniles, persons addicted to drugs or alcohol, or persons involuntarily committed to a mental institution are not legally permitted to own guns or to buy.
Dolan’s changes mean that a person identified as vulnerable by a behavioral risk assessment cannot legally own a firearm. At the same time, his deputy removed the mechanism for confiscating the firearms that a person already owns.
Interestingly, there are two other domestic violence-related disabilities under federal law that do not appear in state statutes. These restrictions apply to individuals who are subject to a protection order or have been convicted of domestic violence offences. While Dolan’s proposal adds a negative behavioral risk rating as a sixth disability, it does not address the disabilities of domestic violence.
In addition to the disability provisions, Dolan’s measure makes a number of changes that overlap with firearm sales.
The bill will require agencies to submit arrest warrants and protective orders to background check databases. Though state statutes and his domestic violence disability bill are silent, background checks do show them up. Dolan noted that adding these orders to the database is an important way to stop dangerous sales.
“It’s a disincentive to getting a gun in Ohio,” Dolan said on the committee. “These orders are taking too long to get into the system. The background check is only as good as the system, the information it contains.”
The bill also increases penalties for straw-buying from a fourth-degree felony to a second-degree felony, with a mandatory two-year minimum sentence. Dolan’s suggestion would also add the question of whether a buyer would receive support such as SNAP benefits. He argued that people exploit SNAP receivers to illegally get their hands on guns. He thinks asking about benefits on the form could deter straw buyers.
Gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21 would need a co-signer older than 25, Dolan suggested, and he even brought back Gov. Mike DeWine’s Seller Protection Certificate. The governor offered the idea as part of his STRONG Ohio weapons package. Instead of requiring universal background checks, he proposed a complicated structure where buyers voluntarily pay for the background check themselves and then issue a certificate to the seller.
Funding & Fears
In general, GOP lawmakers are reluctant to support legislation that even hints at new restrictions on gun owners. Dolan’s original proposal was particularly notable because it came from a senior Republican.
But Dolan’s idea also stood out because it followed a landmark compromise in the US Senate. This law, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, provides $750 million to help states build warning signal systems.
Rather than attempt to tap into those funds, Dolan’s proposal calls for $175 million in dollars for the American Rescue Plan to fund mental health training and new regional public health crisis centers. As he described, the approach will increase the number and distribution of mental health professionals. Crisis centers in particular, he argued, would ease the pressure on prisons, which are inadequate and ill-equipped to treat people in mental health crises.
Still, fears of new gun restrictions remain. Chris Dorr rolled his eyes theatrically when Dolan explained that his action “is about public safety.” Dorr runs the absolutist gun rights group Ohio Gun Owners. Shortly after the hearing, he was seen live on Rumble from the Rotunda.
“There are some idiots out there who say stuff like this isn’t really a red flag — it’s steroid red flags,” he told his audience, prompting them to click a link to contact their lawmakers.
On the committee, however, Dolan was keen to emphasize the balance between protecting public safety and the rights of gun owners. He even cited the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in Heller, who recognized an individual right to bear arms. “It is not a right to keep and bear any weapon in any manner or for any purpose,” Scalia wrote of Second Amendment rights.
Dolan insisted, “The Second Amendment is in no way violated by this law.”
“This law works on the laws that we already have in Ohio. This bill works on the concept that we already adopted in Ohio. That there are certain levels where if you have those traits, traits, facts, you shouldn’t get a gun.”