Lawmakers return with first hearing on gun reform

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State lawmakers returned from their summer recess with their first hearing on gun reform since the Dayton tragedy. (WSYX/WTTE)

State lawmakers returned from their summer recess with their first hearing on gun reform since the Dayton tragedy. Nine people were killed and dozens more injured in one of the worst deadly shootings in Ohio history.

Senators debated a "red flag" bill Tuesday afternoon. The bill would create a process to take guns away from people who may hurt themselves or other people. It's an idea backed by Governor Mike DeWine but the proposal considered Tuesday was introduced by a Democratic senator in February, before the Dayton shooting.

“It’s about knowing that something needed to be done prior to anything actually happening in our state," Williams said.

The bill has since been reintroduced along with a Republican senator as a co-sponsor. Sen. Peggy Lehner (R - Kettering) represents an area just blocks from the Oregon District where the shooting took place.

“The tragedy that took place in the Oregon District stirred me to say, ‘I have to do something. I have to do something,'" Lehner said. “One of the most impactful things to me was walking down the streets, 5th Street in the Oregon District, and literally having to step over blood stains. That gets to you.”

Lehner has become known as one of the staunchest abortion opponents in the Statehouse. She said her "pro-life" position moved her to support gun reforms.

“If we care about human life before birth, we should care about human life throughout time," she said.

Lehner has come out in support for another Democratic bill to expand background checks on all gun purchases. Democrats have also introduced bills to raise the age to buy a firearm to 21 years old and regulate gun shows. So far Lehner is the only Republican publicly backing any gun reforms, leading supporters like her to worry the momentum for dramatic reforms has faded while lawmakers were on their summer break.

“I’ve got to admit, I’m not feeling much sense of urgency here in the Statehouse," Lehner said. "I’d hate to think we have to have more and more tragedies to make everyone wake up and say, ‘we got to do something’.”

Whether the wide majorities of Republicans change their views on guns is to be determined. Statehouse Republicans have approved dozens of bills over the last decade loosening gun restrictions, not tightening them.

“We can revise this thing until everybody is happy," Williams said of her red flag legislation. "It might not be perfect. It might not be all that I want it to be, but as long as we get some measures in place now that will protect Ohioans, I’m okay with it.”

A spokesman for Gov. DeWine said his 17-point proposal on gun safety was still being drafted into official legislation. He said it was too early to say which lawmakers might agree to sponsor it on DeWine's behalf.