Sean Michael Newhouse
A gunman killed nine people and injured 27 in the early hours on Aug. 4 in the city of Dayton’s Oregon District. This was after a shooting on Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas, where at least 20 people were killed and more than two dozen injured in what federal authorities are treating as an act of domestic terrorism.
Here’s a guide to help you keep track of what Dayton’s elected federal and state officials have promised to do, and have done, in regards to gun violence.
President Donald Trump
Trump rolled back an Obama-era regulation at the beginning of his presidency that would have forbidden individuals who receive Social Security checks for a mental illness and people determined to be unable to handle their financial affairs from purchasing a firearm.
Despite speaking favorably of increasing background checks, Trump threatened in February to veto HR 8, which would forbid a person who is not a licensed importer, manufacturer or dealer from transferring a firearm to another individual who also is not licensed unless a background check could be conducted.
Only registered gun dealers, importers and manufacturers are required to perform a background check before selling a firearm. According to a 2017 survey of nearly 2,000 gun owners cited by PolitiFact, 13 percent of respondents said they had purchased a firearm without a background check.
HR 8 passed in the House of Representatives in February, almost exclusively with Democratic support. Lawmakers have called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to put the measure up for a vote in the Senate.
Provisions in HR 8 would not have prevented the Dayton shooter from legally purchasing the weapon used in the shooting.
Trump’s Justice Department enacted a rule in March that illegalized bump stocks, devices that effectively transform a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon. One was used in the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history with 58 deaths and nearly 500 injuries.
For semi-automatic weapons, the shooter must pull the trigger for each shot. In contrast, automatic weapons, or machine guns, can be fired continuously until there is no more ammunition.
Reporter’s note: Machine guns are heavily regulated and relatively less common compared to semi-automatics in the U.S., and I cannot find an incident from recent history where one was used to commit a mass shooting.
Also, the president signed into law in March 2018 the bipartisan STOP School Violence Act. The law provided $75 million for fiscal year (FY) 2018 and authorizes $100 million annually for FY 2019 through FY 2028 for grants to be used for school safety measures, such as metal detectors, school violence prevention training and the creation of an anonymous reporting system for school violence threats. Concurrently, he approved the bipartisan Fix NICS Act, which increases oversight of the National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS) – the federal database of individuals who are ineligible to purchase firearms. The law was necessitated by significant gaps in NICS data that allowed otherwise ineligible individuals to purchase a firearm due to systemic bureaucratic errors; the law’s purpose was to remedy the issue.
Additionally, a provision in a spending bill signed into law by Trump in March 2018 clarified that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can research the causes of gun violence. However, this was not reinforced with additional funding. In 1996, Congress passed an amendment that forbade CDC funds from being used to promote gun control, which created a chilling effect on gun violence research.
During his address on Aug. 5 in response to the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the president – without offering specifics – called for the Justice Department to partner with local, state and federal agencies to develop tools to identify mass shooters before they commit violence and for a reform of mental health laws.
In a statement condemning the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) said: “It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are not violent and far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of violence. Rhetoric that argues otherwise will further stigmatize and interfere with people accessing needed treatment.”
Also during his address, Trump said he supported red flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily confiscate firearms from people determined to be dangerous.
Trump further urged for an end to the glorification of violence in video games. However, UD communication professor Dr. Ronda Scantlin told Flyer News that there is no “compelling evidence” that suggests video games cause mass shootings.
“Media violence is just one contributing factor – among many – when trying to understand aggressive or violent outcomes,” she said.
Scantlin suggested reading this New York Times article for more information. The article notes that while video game usage is similar to the U.S. in other western countries the level of gun violence is not.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R)
Ohio’s governor, who was drowned out by attendees at a vigil in the Oregon District on Aug. 4 urging him to “do something,”announced several proposals to curb gun violence on Aug. 6.
One is to institute red flag laws in the state, which would allow relatives, police, teachers and others to ask a court to confiscate an individual’s firearms if he or she is believed to be a danger to themselves or others. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) attempted to pass a similar proposal in 2018 but was voted down by the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Senate. Republicans still hold a majority in both houses.
DeWine also proposed extending background checks to all gun sales with few exceptions, such as a sale between family members. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that DeWine voted for a similar measure when he was a U.S. congressman.
The governor also proposed harsher penalties for crimes involving a firearm, such as by increasing the penalty to up eight years in prison for violent felons who possess or use guns. Currently, felons can be imprisoned in Ohio for up to three years for possession or use of a firearm.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
During Trump’s visit to Dayton, Brown said he urged the president to support HR 8, the House-passed bill that would require background checks on sales with an unlicensed gun dealer.
He also asked the president to ban assault weapons. The definition of an assault weapon is not universal but generally denotes a military-style firearm with the capacity to fire multiple rounds. For instance, both a rifle and a pistol can be semi-automatic, but a semi-automatic rifle is able to fire more rounds than a semi-automatic pistol.
From 1994 to 2004, there was an assault weapons ban in the U.S. A 2004 government study of the ban found its effectiveness to be mixed due, in part, to loopholes in the law and its relatively short enactment.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
After the Dayton shooting, Ohio’s Republican senator expressed support for enacting red flag laws. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have been working on legislation that would provide grants and incentives for states to implement such laws.
Portman has not said if he would support HR 8 if it would be voted on in the Senate, but he did vote against a similar measure in 2013.
Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH)
Dayton’s representative in the House of Representatives changed his position on firearm restrictions after the Oregon District shooting. On Aug. 6, he called for a ban on military-style weapons, magazine limits and red flag laws.
Reporter’s note: For those unfamiliar with firearms, a magazine limit would reduce the number of bullets that could be fired from a gun before the shooter would need to reload.
Turner’s daughter was in the Oregon District when the shooting occurred. She was unharmed.
The congressman in February voted against HR 8, which would expand background checks for firearm purchases.
Turner’s colleague Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) announced after the Dayton shooting that he supports expanding background checks and raising the firearm purchasing age to 21 for the purpose of preventing potential teenage school shooters from legally acquiring guns. Kinzinger voted against HR 8.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)
Kaptur is the U.S. representative for Toledo, OH, which the president mistakenly said was the site of the Oregon District mass shooting during a televised address.
She urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to call the Senate back from its August recess to vote on HR 8 and HR 1112. The latter bill, which passed the House in February, would lengthen the amount of time required by a federally licensed firearm dealer, importer or manufacturer to wait to sell a gun to an individual if the national criminal background check system has not notified the seller whether the buyer is eligible to purchase a firearm.
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia