Ohio Gov. DeWine ignores questions about gun safety amid state lawsuit against Columbus gun safety law

Gun protest sign
Posted at 6:37 PM, May 24, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — During an open question-and-answer session at a news conference Wednesday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine repeatedly ignored News 5's questions about gun safety. The questions came on a day a 7-year-old girl was shot in the head in Cleveland, and as the state government is suing Columbus over a safe gun storage law.

The child was shot Wednesday morning and remains in critical condition at University Hospitals, according to the Cleveland Police Department. She was potentially shot by a younger sibling, police add.

"It's an incredibly shocking and sad story, but unfortunately not a surprising one," state Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) said.

The Northeast Ohio representative said common sense gun safety laws would have prevented this from happening — something Columbus has recently implemented.

In January, a small child survived after discharging a gun inside his home in Columbus. He found the gun between two cushions. The City of Columbus charged the father under the new safe storage law.

"Cities are trying to do something," Weinstein added. "We have great leadership in our cities, but the state is actively undermining them."

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The city requires gun owners to lock up their guns around children when they aren't using them, and banned magazines that can hold 30 or more rounds of ammunition.

Gun rights advocate Rob Sexton said this isn't legal, supporting the state in its ongoing litigation against the city.

"State law is crystal clear that local governments cannot enact gun restrictions that exceed those that are already in state law," Sexton said.

Cities need to address the real issue with gun violence, he added.

"I'm noticing far less police presence and far less assertive police presence," the advocate said.

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) was less than thrilled to hear about these comments.

"The bravery, tenacity and dedication of Ohio police officers is on display every day," FOP spokesperson Mike Weinman told News 5. "However, this task has become harder every time legislation is passed that takes tools from our toolbelts. Gun laws, in particular, have been disappearing from our toolbelts, making it much more difficult to curb the gun violence that is gripping our State."

Another issue for Sexton is uniformity.

"How could any law-abiding gun owner even know how to drive from their home to their work or to go visit friends if every time they cross a subdivision line between a county or a city that they would not even know where or how to store their own firearms?" he said. "We're supposed to be after the criminals, not the law-abiding."

House Bill 51

Weinstein warned that police can't handle gun violence on their own, especially not with another bill that is meant to loosen gun laws. House Bill 51 would penalize law enforcement for following federal gun laws.

"Currently H.B. 51 would force our agencies to leave federal law enforcement task forces, end cooperation with those agencies, and stop the use of federal databases that identify weapons used in violent crimes," FOP's Weinman said. "This is not the direction Ohio needs to go to address gun violence."

Spearheaded by the group Ohio Gun Owners (OGO), not Sexton and Buckeye Firearms Association, the controversial legislation is meant to make Ohio a gun “sanctuary state”

"Right now, Ohio cops have two choices, either enforce federal law, including the new pistol brace ban or stick to their morals and lose their jobs," testified OGO's Jered Taylor, who is not a police officer. "This legislation gives them a third option, the option to point to this legislation and refuse to enforce an unconstitutional dictate."

The way the bill is written, the legislation has a seemingly unintended consequence of forcing police to stop enforcing gun laws.

DeWine ReWind

For context, back in January, DeWine vetoed a bill that banned municipalities from regulating flavored tobacco.

“Candidly, though, we’re dealing now with young people’s lives," DeWine said at the press conference. "When a local community wants to make the decision to ban these flavors to protect their children, we should applaud those decisions.”

The measure was not in the public interest, he added.

"I understand the desire for uniformity, but we're dealing with children's lives here," the governor said.

DeWine Present

News 5 Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau asked Gov. Mike DeWine about the lawsuit and the new bill during a press conference Wednesday. She referenced the fact that the governor vetoed the tobacco legislation while citing safety and asked if he would also be vetoing H.B. 51 for the same reason.

"I'm not going to get into the litigation that is going on," DeWine said, then spoke for a minute about tobacco.

Trau tried reasking her question, "what about the gun bills?"

She was ignored.

When following up with the governor’s team, spokesperson Dan Tierney said that tobacco is a public health concern, while gun violence is not.

Gun violence could fall into a public safety concern, not health, he added.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.