After the Feb. 14 killing of 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many of the survivors have called once again on lawmakers to act on gun control.
Deanna Wilkinson, an associate professor in Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, said she’s “cautiously optimistic” those calls might soon be answered with new legislation.
Since 2011, the rate of mass shootings in the U.S. has tripled, according to a 2014 study from Harvard’s School of Public Health analyzing the previous 30 years. No federal gun law has been passed in the seven years that followed mass shootings at churches, concerts, movie theaters and schools.
However, calls for gun control after each incident did follow.
“I think the key will be how long pressure is kept up, and when and if the next [mass shooting] happens — which it will,” said Wilkinson, who has studied gun violence prevention throughout her career.
If the federal government doesn’t pass additional regulation on firearms, states could decide to act on their own.
For more than a decade, Ohio lawmakers have consistently voted to expand gun rights, a trend that Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said is good for the state.
“We’ve made some progress over that period of time, not as fast as we would like, but that’s politics,” he said.
All of Ohio’s current Republican representatives in Congress have received contributions from the NRA, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Sen. Rob Portman received more than $3 million in his career. Republicans in the House of Representatives received more than $450,000 in donations throughout their collective careers.
I think the key will be how long pressure is kept up, and when and if the next [mass shooting] happens — which it will. —Deanna Wilkinson, an associate professor in Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology
Rep. Tim Ryan is the only Ohio Democrat in Congress to have received NRA contributions, but not since 2012, according to the center.
BFA was formed in 2004 to fight for Ohioans’ right “to own and use firearms for all legal activities,” according to its website.
Republican Gov. John Kasich — who signed numerous laws expanding access to firearms taking office in 2011 — surprised many by recommending a ban on semi-automatic weapons Feb. 18.
Rieck said he’s disappointed in Kasich’s decision and attributes it to political posturing.
“He’s planning another run for the presidency,” he said. “It’s a calculated move on his part.”
In the weeks following the shooting in Florida, Kasich has had a sudden change of heart on his views regarding gun legislation. Up until Feb. 18, Kasich touted his pro-gun agenda for all to see.
“Gov. John R. Kasich continues to be a strong supporter of the right to bear arms and, as governor, has signed every pro-2nd amendment bill that has crossed his desk to defend this basic, constitutional right,” his presidential campaign website stated before being taken down, according to Cincinnati.com.
Ohio’s gun purchasing laws are similar to those in Florida, including the controversial law that allowed 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz to purchase the AR-15 he used in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting before he could legally purchase a handgun at age 21.
Several bills have been introduced by Democrats in the Ohio House of Representatives to ban semi-automatic weapons and bump-stock devices, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire at near fully-automatic speed, but none have been voted on.
“Those would be helpful, they’re just never going to pass,” Wilkinson said.
Rieck said banning any firearm hardware is a mistake that would only negatively affect law-abiding citizens.
In Ohio, Republicans control both houses of the General Assembly, and support efforts to expand gun rights.
No member of the Senate majority leadership has voted against legislation to expand gun rights for the state, according to Vote Smart, a nonpartisan group that tracks elected officials. Senate minority leadership has collectively voted against expanding gun rights two-thirds of the time.
We’ve talked about additional funding, potentially for more school safety measures like what we saw with the previous grant program —Ohio Senate President, Republican Larry Obhof
Recent talk of legislation has largely focused on expanding permissions to concealed-carry licensees. Wilkinson said there is convincing evidence these laws result in more crime.
“The policies to enhance gun rights and … concealed carry and the states that have that — when it’s systematically examined with pretty rigorous models — show an increase in violent crime overall and an increase in homicide,” she said. “I think it’s very dangerous to pretend that those policies don’t potentially have negative implications.”
Rieck said policies that prohibit guns in certain areas make people less safe because criminals are more likely to target those locations — especially if those policies are announced.
“Somehow, that makes some people feel safer, but what it really does is it sends a signal to criminals, ‘Ah, this is a place where they can’t hit back,’” he said.
Members of the Ohio legislature have not disclosed publicly whether they are moving on any gun-related legislation, but discussions regarding an increase in school security have taken place, Ohio Senate President, Republican Larry Obhof told the Statehouse News Bureau Feb 20.
“We’ve talked about additional funding, potentially for more school safety measures like what we saw with the previous grant program,” Obhof said.
BFA offers a free service, FASTER Saves Lives, that trains teachers how to respond in active-shooter scenarios. Rieck said the program has trained more than 1,300 teachers and is known to reduce the amount of time a shooter can remain active, which would reduce the number of victims.
“These guys don’t go to a police station. There’s a reason for that. They know that they’re going to get stopped pretty fast. They go to a school because they know, in many cases, there’s no one there to effectively stop them. It’s the same reason they go to a church,” he said. “They’re looking for body count.”
Wilkinson said school security measures can be helpful, but they also have potential downsides, which she witnessed in her research.
“When young men thought everyone else was armed, they were way more likely to be armed and to gang up,” she said.
For that reason and more, Wilkinson said it’s important to fully understand the effects enhancing security might have before making any sweeping changes.
“If [lawmakers] are going to propose some of these things, they should also propose an independent study that’s going to capture what impact it’s having — negative and positive,” she said.
Enhancing school security with gun-trained staff has been proposed by President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association.
Critics have said the NRA has too much influence over politicians. Rieck, an NRA member, said the group’s influence comes from the support of voters.
“You can’t pass laws or you can’t have influence with politicians unless they think that voters actually support the issue,” he said.
Rieck said BFA estimates there are roughly 4 million gun owners in Ohio — about one-third of the state.
“That’s a big voting bloc,” he said.