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Ohio Republican lawmaker proposes bill to create safety protection orders, other gun reforms

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Lutsenko Oleksandr/SHUTTERSTOCK
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An Ohio Republican state senator is proposing a five-point plan to change gun laws that includes a court-ordered gun seizure mechanism, a co-signer requirement for gun buyers under 21, and money to increase the number of mental health workers and expansion of regional mental health centers.

Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) failed to push a gun law reform bill through the legislature three years ago. His new proposal has similar elements and a few new ones.

"This isn't a bill about whether you own a gun or possess a gun in violation of the Second Amendment," Dolan said in an interview. "This is a bill that says if you are a gun owner, are you responsible? And we've already accepted in Ohio that if you're mentally impaired or ill, you're not responsible and thus, you can't buy a gun."

But the bill does not require universal background checks and doesn't ban gun sales to people under 21. An NPR/Ipsos survey in July found overwhelming support for those ideas, including among gun owners.

"Politics is the art of the possible. And so I have to recognize what it is that I can get through the legislature that doesn't violate Second Amendment," Dolan said."It's the reality of, can we show Ohioans that we can have this conversation. We can talk about reasonable ownership of guns, mental health, impacting our public safety, and actually get something done. That's why this bill is tailored to what it is."

The bill comes three years after Dolan tried to push Gov. Mike DeWine's "STRONG Ohio" gun reform measure through the legislature after the mass shooting in Dayton. That measure received a few hearings but was never voted out of committee.

The bill would create what it calls a due process safety protection order. A judge could issue that order to police, to seize and temporarily hold the firearms of a person deemed by the judge to be a danger to themselves or others because of mental health issues.

The bill would require a co-signer for purchases of guns by people ages 18-21. That co-signer, who must be over 25-years-old, could be held civilly liable if the gun is used in a felony while the buyer is under 21.

Dolan's bill also includes a seller's protection certificate, which is a voluntary background check for private gun sales and was also in the previous STRONG Ohio proposal. It also requires enhanced background check information be added into state and federal law enforcement databases by the end of the next business day.

And it includes $85 million to increase the number of mental health treatment workers and $90 million to expand of regional mental health centers. Dolan said that federal American Rescue Plan money will be used to "prop up a program to get mental health workers into the workforce" and to stand up the regional health centers, but he said in the future, those expenses will be on counties or other entities and not the state.

Dolan said he didn’t consult with either gun rights or gun control groups, but with law enforcement, prosecutors and other stakeholders. But he said he’s presenting the bill to those advocacy groups.

The Buckeye Firearms Association said in a statement: “This is just another attempt to pass laws we have previously opposed. There are "red flag" provisions that open the door for abuse by seizing legally obtained firearms before someone is convicted of any crime. There is a so-called "seller's protection certificate" that is presented as optional, but could easily become de facto mandatory for fear of civil liability. The bill even includes an unconstitutional "co-signer" mandate for firearms purchasers who are 18-21 years of age, which is blatant and arbitrary discrimination.”

While Dolan has said he wants to put forward a bill that can pass a legislature that's been dedicated to expanding gun rights, the bill's future is unclear. So far this year, two controversial laws expanding gun rights have taken effect in Ohio.

In March, Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law a measure allowing people to carry concealed weapons without first having to obtain a permit or take a training course.

And this year, schools are opening under a new law that allows teachers and other school staff to be armed in school buildings if they want to and the district approves. The new law also drops the required training from around 700 hours to 24 hours.