Dennis Kucinich says Ohio stands at a “defining moment.”
Will another school shooting simply pass into history as a sad but unavoidable tragedy, or will voters do something about it? And if it’s the latter, could it possibly propel the former Cleveland mayor and congressman to the Democratic gubernatorial nomination?
“I believe that we are at a tipping point, that the public awareness of the danger of these assault weapons is so powerful, that no matter who is in office, or who aspires to office, this event in Parkland (Florida) has created a sea change in the way we’re approaching this issue where people are becoming motivated and activated because they realize that all our lives are on the line here,” Kucinich said Monday during an organization rally in Cleveland to ban so-called assault weapons across Ohio.
While the stakes of the gun debate are huge for this year’s race to succeed term-limited Gov. John Kasich, it’s even more important — and personal — to some Ohioans.
During Kucinich’s rally, a high school junior from Shaker Heights stood up to express the fears of his generation.
“Frankly, we don’t feel safe,” he said. “We don’t know if we walk into school if we’ll be able to walk out the same day.”
While Kucinich went light on his gubernatorial aspirations, he noted more than 1,500 people signed on to the push for the gun ban on his web site in less than 48 hours, and predicted “this issue, banning assault weapons, will be a major issue in the 2018 election, whether it’s a Democrat or Republican.”
Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University in southwestern Ohio, calls gun control “a classic primary issue” for Democratic candidates this year, especially for top fund-raiser Richard Cordray, former attorney general.
“The nature of the primary electorate would probably favor someone like Kucinich staking out a position to the left of Cordray. This may benefit Kucinich in the short term because it taps into some long-standing desires of the more progressive wing of the party.
“Cordray, to combat this, may have to make some hard choices. Is this issue sufficiently high profile to force him to reconsider his options? Will voters care about this issue with the same intensity within two weeks or two months? If he thinks the issue has legs and the electorate within the primary is moving toward his left, he may need to think about shifting his rhetoric or embracing some new options.
“If he does this, of course, that might make him even more vulnerable to the GOP candidates in the fall. If they can paint Cordray as anti-gun rights, it could make his life difficult in large parts of Ohio.”
Kucinich uses his website to draw a sharp distinction with Cordray, who as attorney general defended an Ohio law overturning a local assault-weapons ban that Cleveland had enacted in 1991. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a ruling, in effect, barred local governments across the country from enacting their own bans.
Kucinich’s site says “Ohio Attorney General and NRA-champion Richard Cordray led the charge to defend the NRA-controlled state legislature’s effort to strike down the assault weapons ban. He then went on to crush EVERY city in America’s ability to write ANY laws protecting children from assault weapons. … It’s up to us to take action (on) Cordray’s ruling.”
In his unsuccessful 2010 re-election run, Cordray targeted a mailing at gun owners, saying “I not only believe in the Second Amendment — I believe that gun ownership is a right that predates even the Constitution.” He touted an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and endorsement by the Buckeye Firearms Association, saying “he will do whatever he can to ensure our rights are not infringed upon.”
Cordray plans to unveil his proposal on guns Tuesday morning at an event with law enforcement officers in Canton, but he revealed the following:
‒I will work to see that background checks are conducted on all gun sales, through a process that is fully funded and effective, and I will work closely with federal and local law enforcement officials to target all straw-man purchases, gun thefts, and illicit gun trafficking for intensive prosecution.
‒ I will push to ban the sale and purchase of ‘bump-stocks’ and any other mechanisms that convert legal firearms into illegal fully-automatic weapons.
‒ I will work for increased school safety, including placing school resource officers on-site in schools to enhance security, train personnel, help spot warning signs, and speed emergency response times in order to save lives.
‒ I will appoint a Gun Violence Prevention Czar in my administration to coordinate a comprehensive response to this issue that runs the gamut from bolstering local law enforcement, supporting and funding tip hotlines, improving mental health efforts, and providing resources and best practices to local officials.
‒ I will work with prosecutors, local law enforcement, and social services to create gun violence task forces that use proven tactics from Ohio and around the country to target illegal gun trafficking and gang violence, and to stage early interventions to stop likely offenders from committing gun crimes.
“What happened in Parkland, Florida is sickening,” Cordray plans to say, according to prepared remarks. “We have an epidemic of gun violence and we need to do something about it. As a state and as a nation, we must have an honest discussion and debate about how to keep innocent people — and innocent children — safe from gun violence.
“This discussion must be broader than the horrific events in Florida. It must also include the daily gun violence that touches every corner of our state, that tragically took the lives of two police officers in Westerville in recent days, and which disproportionately affects our African-American community.”
Kucinich has been much more outspoken than the other Ohio gubernatorial hopefuls since Wednesday’s school shooting in Florida took 17 lives. He and running mate Tara L. Samples, an Akron City Council member, are making available a model resolution for adoption by local governments urging the General Assembly to ban the weapons that have been used in multiple mass shootings in recent years.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman also is campaigning to rein in gun rights during his gubernatorial run. He unveiled a plan last week to improve school safety, seek better ways to keep the mentally ill from getting guns, and make the type of weapons used in a recent spate of mass shootings harder to get. Schiavoni tweeted, “I’m working to close loopholes, increase regulations, & keep guns out of dangerous hands.”
Democrat William M. O’Neill, who resigned from the Ohio Supreme Court to run for governor, largely ducked the issue when contacted by The Dispatch, saying he wanted to avoid a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“I’m just not willing to do a litany of what should be done,” he said. “The Second Amendment does guarantee the ownership of weapons, but does not prohibit reasonable regulation … I do not feel qualified to say what is a reasonable regulation.”
However, O’Neill said he doubts whether a ban on semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 would be constitutional and whether improved background checks would help stem the prevalence of mass shootings.
“The issue is not necessarily defining the weapon, but we should be defining the qualifications of ownership,” he said. “The state has to truly review what we are currently doing and see if it would have prevented the tragedy in Florida.”
While staying neutral in the Democratic governor’s contest, Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper acknowledged that guns are a major concern this year.
“Ohioans are worried about their kids’ futures—will their kids enjoy the same opportunities they did? And that includes the security of their communities. This isn’t just Democratic voters—it’s Republicans and independents, too. No matter their party affiliation, Ohio voters want their next governor to talk with them honestly and openly about how he or she is going to address these issues in a real and holistic way, and they’re looking for leaders who will prioritize their kids’ safety and economic opportunities over donors and special interests.”
As he considers another presidential bid, either as an independent or Republican, in 2020, an “evolved” Ohio Gov. John Kasich used the Parkland massacre as grounds to reverse some of his prior positions on guns in an appearance on CNN on Sunday morning.
Kasich said he would support expanded, universal background checks prior to purchases, including private sales of guns, and a potential ban on semi-automatic rifles such as the one used in Parkland, Las Vegas and many other mass shootings.
Shortly after the CNN interview, Kasich advisers scrubbed his political website clean of references to his prior, NRA-endorsed views on guns, including that he had “signed every pro-Second Amendment bill that crossed his desk.” Those bills expanded where concealed guns can be carried in Ohio, lessened penalties for violations and gave permit holders the right to store their guns in vehicles on workplace parking lots.
On Monday morning, the Second Amendment page at johnkasich.com reappeared with a new message: “John Kasich has spoken out on the need for reasonable reforms to prevent future massacres … The 2nd Amendment is one of the most divisive issues in our country. Leadership requires the willingness to tackle these issues and to find solutions. Our country and our children deserve that leadership.”
Both Republican candidates for governor, Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, are firmly in the gun rights camp.
Taylor, who has attempted to distance herself from Kasich, took a shot at the governor in a statement on Monday: “All too often in the aftermath of these tragic events, there is knee-jerk reaction to attack the Second Amendment rights of our citizens rather than to address the root causes, which often center around mental illness. Restricting the rights of law abiding Ohioans to legally purchase a gun does not do that. Neither does removing your prior support for pro-Second Amendment legislation from a website.”
Saying she was “horrified” by the Parkland shootings, Taylor said, “We need to secure our school buildings and do everything possible to keep our students, teachers and staff safe. Including allowing trained, law-abiding citizens to carry a gun on campus.”
In a Monday statement, DeWine said he would require every school to have a mental health professional to “serve the immediate needs of our kids, while also identifying threats against them.” He also wants the Department of Public Safety’s “Fusion Center” to upgrade its work to better detect and deter any threats against schools and children. DeWine also is upgrading his office’s criminal background check system, a move to “ensure we keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who are prohibited from owning firearms.”
“We must protect our children at all times – especially in school,” DeWine said.. “These are tangible efforts that will help ensure that our kids get the help and protection they need.”
Even the League of Women Voters of Ohio has waded into the controversy.
Mary Kirtz Van Nortwick and Alison Ricker, co-presidents, said in a statement the Florida school tragedy “shows once again the tragic results of lax gun regulation in our country.” The group supports “strong federal measures to limit accessibility and regulate ownership of these weapons by private citizens. In particular, we believe that deadly weapons like the AR-15, used in all of the most recent mass killings throughout our country, should be kept out of civilian hands. We will make every effort to fight against laws that further erode restraints on the ownership and usage of guns in Ohio.”
Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said, “I find it disgusting that politicians propose things that will fail to save the next kids’ lives. We need things that work, not failed ideas.”
The association advocates training qualified teachers to carry and use guns and confront school shooters, Irvine said. The group has trained teachers from about 225 school districts, although not all are permitted by their districts to carry guns in classrooms, he said. Irvine had no estimate on how many districts secretly have authorized teachers to carry guns in schools.
“The cops won’t get their in time. It’s a complete fallacy that police are going to stop that killer,” Irvine said. “We teach them how to ‘live’ for our kids and end the violence immediately.”
Dean Rieck, executive director, of the gun rights group, said gun owners become angry too when they see innocent kids killed in schools or church members gunned down, but contended it’s not gun owners who are preventing action.
“For goodness sake, stop demagoguing about guns and violence. Stop raising money for political campaigns with the blood of innocent victims. Stop blaming millions of law-abiding gun owners for the actions of a tiny handful of criminals and mentally ill people.
“It’s infuriating that the people who know the least about guns and violence are so quick to lecture those of us who know the most. We have practical, proven solutions. Why don’t you start listening to us?”