Press Release

MEMO: Background on Ohio Gun Laws in Response to Gov. DeWine’s Weak Gun Safety Proposal

Nine people died and 26 people were injured in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio earlier this year. Officers neutralized the lone suspect after he fired for less than a minute using a .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle, equipped with a 100-round magazine, capable of penetrating ballistic-resistant vests typically worn by police and resulting in catastrophic wounds to victims. The shooter had additional magazines with him.

In response to this tragedy, Ohio leaders on both sides of the aisle demanded action. Governor DeWine promised to “do something” to address gun violence in the state—both what led to the shooting in Dayton and the everyday gun violence hurting communities across the state. Last week, he put forward the STRONG Ohio Bill, SB 221. Unfortunately, the proposal is anything but a strong plan to prevent future tragedies in Ohio.

Weaknesses of Governor DeWine’s STRONG Ohio Bill, SB 221

Governor DeWine’s proposal purports to address gun violence in Ohio but the legislative provisions outlined in the STRONG Ohio bill miss the mark and are filled with loopholes that would still allow dangerous people to have access to firearms.

Specifically, the Governor’s proposal only provides for a voluntary background check, which is not sufficient to ensure people seeking to cause harm don’t have access to firearms. If a transferee fails a background check and is unable to obtain the proposed seller’s protection certificate, he or she can find a different seller who does not require a certificate. This loophole would seriously undermine the effectiveness of the proposal.

The major problems include:

  • No further action: Under the proposal, when the department of public safety denies a seller’s protection certificate due to a failed background check, neither the department nor the sheriff is required to take any further action. A different seller, who chooses not to voluntarily require a certificate, may legally sell a gun to the individual even though the department has already determined he or she is prohibited

  • No strong incentive: The incentive for a seller to voluntarily choose to require a background check via a seller’s protection certificate is based on potential negligence liability. This incentive is not strong enough to result in significant use of the proposed certificate. A strict liability standard would provide a much greater incentive.

  • No tracing: When a firearm is transferred through a federally licensed dealer, the dealer must keep records that are later available for use in tracing the gun if it is found at a crime scene. The proposal requires the department of public safety to create a form to be used for background checks that may not include identification of individual weapons, making tracing impossible.

The STRONG proposal also outlines a “safety protection order” that would only allow law enforcement to remove firearms in certain, limited circumstances, allowing those who may be a danger to themselves or others to continue to possess firearms. A crucial aspect of extreme risk laws enacted in other states is that they can be used even when a person has not already fallen into a prohibited category and can thus thwart violence before it occurs.

  • The proposed safety protection order would allow a person subject to the order to petition the court for return of his or her firearms to another person who has title to them, even if that person lives with the subject of the order. Therefore, firearms could be returned to someone living in the same home with the individual who is the subject of the safety protection order.

Policy Recommendations for the Ohio Legislature

  • S.B. 183 would require true universal background checks on all gun transfers, closing the private sale background check loophole. 

    • A universal background checks law would ensure that people prohibited from purchasing firearms cannot do so through an unregulated sale from an unlicensed or online seller or at a gun show. Closing this background check loophole is critical to making sure criminals and other dangerous people do not have access to firearms. It is also a policy that 97% of Americans support.

  • S.B. 184 would create an extreme risk protection order that enables family members and law enforcement to petition a court to remove a firearm from someone who is a danger to themselves or others while still ensuring due process. 

    • Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws enable family members and law enforcement to petition a court for a temporary order prohibiting a person from purchasing or possessing firearms. These orders are sought when the individual demonstrates behaviors that indicate they may be a danger to themselves or others. Countless shootings have demonstrated that people who do not fall within existing categories of prohibited people can still pose significant threats to themselves and public safety. In many cases, people close to a mass shooter had observed clear warning signs of violence but were unable to act to keep him from accessing weapons.

  • S.B. 202 would repeal preemption in Ohio and allow localities to pass their own laws that protect residents from gun violence.

Background on Ohio Gun Laws

In 2017, Ohio had the nation’s 22nd highest gun death rate. That year, nearly 14 people died of gun violence for every 100,000 people in the state. Ohio has enacted few laws to keep residents safe from gun violence. Ohio received a D on the Giffords state gun law scorecard, with 28 states having stronger firearms laws than Ohio.

Ohio does not require background checks prior to the transfer of a firearm between private parties; does not prohibit the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or large capacity ammunition magazines; does not restrict firearm access by people convicted of most violent misdemeanors, including domestic abuse and hate crimes; does not require firearms dealers to obtain a state license; does not limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time; does not impose a waiting period on firearm purchases; does not regulate ammunition sales; does not require residents to safely store firearms around children; does not allow local governments to regulate firearms; and does not provide local governments with the discretion to deny concealed weapons permits.

In 2016, Governor John Kasich signed a dangerous new law that made it easier for dangerous people to carry loaded, concealed guns in school safety zones, libraries, and even childcare centers. Ohio moderately strengthened its gun laws in 2018 by expanding domestic violence protection orders to include dating partners. In 2019 the Ohio Legislature has been considering a permitless carry bill which would make it much harder for law enforcement to identify prohibited people who are illegally carrying guns in public and increase the risk that everyday disagreements will escalate into shootouts.

Background on Assault Weapons and Large-Capacity Magazines

Assault weapons are a class of semi-automatic firearm specifically designed to kill humans quickly and efficiently. They are a relatively new class of weapon—during the 1980s, the gun industry sought to reverse a decline in consumer demand for guns by developing and marketing new types of weapons based on high-powered military designs. Assault weapons are frequently the guns of choice for individuals who carry out horrific public attacks; a recent review of public mass shootings resulting in four or more deaths found that more than 85% of fatalities in these attacks were caused by assault rifles.

In 1994, Congress adopted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which made it “unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess” a semiautomatic assault weapon. The law was adopted with a sunset clause, however, and expired in 2004, despite overwhelming public support for its renewal. Thus, semi-automatic, military-style weapons that were formerly banned under federal law are now legal unless it is one of the seven states or the District of Columbia that have banned them.

Research examining the effect of the federal assault weapons ban on high-fatality mass shootings (six or more deaths) found that the number of high-fatality mass shootings fell by 37% and the number of people dying in such shootings fell by 43%, compared with the 10-year period before the ban. But after the ban lapsed in 2004, the numbers shot up again—an astonishing 183% increase in high-fatality mass shootings and a 239% increase in deaths during such shootings.

Similarly, large-capacity magazines, some of which can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition, significantly increase a shooter’s ability to injure and kill large numbers of people quickly because they enable the individual to fire repeatedly without needing to reload.

A review of mass shootings between 2009 and 2017 found that shootings involving large-capacity magazines resulted in twice as many fatalities, with 14 times as many injuries per incident on average, compared to those without. Even after removing the October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas, large-capacity magazines still resulted in nearly twice as many fatalities and six times as many injuries during this time frame. Firearms equipped with high-capacity magazines are estimated to account for 22 to 36% of crime guns in most places and nearly 40% of crime guns used in serious violent crimes, including murders of law enforcement officers.

Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning large-capacity ammunition magazines. Although large capacity ammunition magazine bans are often enacted in conjunction with assault weapon bans, they can also be enacted as a stand-alone law. Large capacity ammunition magazine bans reduce the capacity, and thus the potential lethality, of any firearm that can accept a large capacity ammunition magazine, including a firearm that is not an assault weapon. Crime data also suggests that a ban on large-capacity magazines would have a greater impact on gun crime than a ban on assault weapons alone.

Background on Hate-Fueled Gun Violence

Violent extremists and hate groups often use firearms as tools of violence and intimidation. In recent years, mass shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, a historic African-American church in Charleston, and a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, were among the deadliest hate crimes ever committed in the United States, and among the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history. The disturbing scenes playing out in the streets of Charlottesville in the summer of 2017 were yet another instance of the hate that plagues our communities every day.

Between 2010 and 2014, roughly 43,000 hate crimes were committed in the United States involving the use or threatened use of a gun. Since 2014, hate crime incidents across the US have become more numerous and more violent. The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked a 17% increase in the number of active hate groups since 2014, with rising hate crime rates driven largely by rising rates of violent hate and a record high number of active hate groups in 2018.

From 2016 to 2017, there was a 16% increase in hate crimes against black Americans and a 24% increase in hate crimes against Hispanic and Latino Americans.  Police departments in numerous major cities have reported significant spikes in hate crimes, including New York City, which reported a 24% increase in hate crimes in 2016 followed by an additional 28% increase in 2017. Since 2014, the number of active anti-Muslim hate groups has increased four-fold, coinciding with a nearly 600% increase in hate crimes targeting the American Muslim community. The Anti-Defamation League has also reported a “significant, sustained increase in anti- Semitic activity since the start of 2016.”

While most U.S. states (and federal law) prohibit convicted domestic violence misdemeanants from acquiring guns, individuals convicted of violent hate crime misdemeanors remain eligible to keep and purchase guns in the majority of the country.

Background on the Increased Risk of Violence Among Young Adults

The shooter in Dayton was 24 years old. The shooter in El Paso was 21 years old. The shooter in Gilroy, California, was 19 years old. A robust body of academic literature shows that the human brain continues to develop well past the age of 21, meaning that young adults are predisposed to riskier and less controlled behavior and therefore at an elevated risk of committing gun violence. Individuals age 18 to 20 comprise only four percent of the population but commit 17 percent of gun homicides.

Young adults are also at elevated risk of suicide, with suicide attempts that result in death or treatment in a hospital at their highest rates between ages 14 and 21. Gun access can significantly increase these risks, as the association between firearm availability and suicide is strongest among adolescents and young adults.

Following the shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, four states tightened minimum age laws, specifically addressing the ability of people under 21 to access firearms: California, Florida, Vermont, and Washington.

Research, Data & Related Studies

Gun Violence in Ohio

  • In 2017, Ohio had the 22nd highest gun death rate among the states.

  • Gun violence poses a serious public safety risk to residents of Ohio, over 1,400 of whom die from gun violence each year. Someone is killed with a gun every six hours in Ohio.

  • Gun violence has a disproportionate impact on communities of color in our cities. Black men make up less than 7% of Ohio’s population, but account for nearly 64% of the state’s gun homicide victims. In Ohio, black men ages 18–24 are nearly 32 times more likely than white men the same age to be murdered with a gun.

  • Exposure to gun violence can cause lasting trauma in young people, leading to PTSD, chronic stress, and decreased future earnings. From 2013 to 2017, 1,488 people under age 25 were killed with a gun in Ohio. Guns are the second-leading cause of death for Ohio children ages 1–17.

  • Ohio continues to grapple with a gun violence crisis that costs the state $2.7 billion each year in directly measurable costs. Gun violence costs Ohio taxpayers over $540 million annually. Research confirms that reducing shootings improves local economies.

Gun Violence in America

  • 136,000 Americans are shot each year—over 1.2 million in the past decade.

  • Nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths are gun suicides, and one-third of gun deaths are gun homicides.

  • Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than people in other high-income countries.

  • Americans are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other high-income countries.

  • Across 29 high-income countries, 93% of children ages 0 to 14 years killed with guns are from the United States.

  • In US states with high gun ownership, firearm homicide rates are 36 times higher than in other high-income countries and firearm suicide rates are 15 times higher.

Additional Resources