Local Politics: 2018 ballot issue on guns a possibility

Michael Curtin

Ohioans have never voted on a statewide ballot issue on guns.

That could change in 2018, if gun-safety groups decide Ohio voters are receptive to requiring background checks on all gun purchases.

Ohioans for Gun Safety, a recently formed coalition of seven organizations, has begun to evaluate the potential for grassroots support and financial backing for a ballot issue.

Another new group, the Ohio Coalition for Common Sense, recently became the eighth statewide alliance organized by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former Navy Capt. Mark Kelly. In January 2011, Giffords was among 19 people shot in a suburb of Tucson, Arizona, by a mentally ill man. Six died, and Giffords was permanently disabled with a head wound.

Those groups could find support from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, named for the late James Brady, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan. In March 1981, Brady was shot in the head during an assassination attempt on Reagan.

The Brady Act, named for him, was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. It requires background checks when gun buyers purchase from federally licensed dealers. Since becoming effective in 1994, the law has blocked an estimated 3 million sales to prohibited purchasers, mostly convicted felons, domestic abusers and those previously judged mentally ill.

In recent years, however, gun sales increasingly have taken place outside the network of federally licensed dealers, especially over the internet and at gun shows. One in five gun sales now are estimated to take place outside the network.

That trend, combined with the frequency of mass shootings, has prompted gun-safety groups to adopt a state-by-state political strategy in the face of an ultra-conservative Congress that shows no interest in closing background-check loopholes.

National surveys consistently have shown a large majority of Americans support universal background checks. Those polls have been largely validated in recent state ballot tests. In November 2016, California, Nevada and Washington approved initiatives to prohibit any transfer of a firearm without a background check. A similar initiative lost (48-52) in Maine.

With last year's three victories, 19 states and the District of Columbia now require universal background checks.

On average, 93 people die each day from gun violence in the United States, according to the Brady Campaign. That number includes seven children and teens.

Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association and aligned organizations long ago relinquished their historic support for responsible gun ownership in the interest of maximizing gun sales. Legislative efforts to bolster responsible gun ownership are opposed, in knee-jerk fashion, by the NRA and its sister groups, who claim those efforts are a first step toward government confiscation of guns.

Jim Irvine, board president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, recently echoed that reasoning, telling Ohio media that background checks will lead to mandatory registration.

Only the United States makes it easy for criminals and the deranged to buy all types of weapons with practically unlimited firepower. Perhaps Ohioans soon will get a chance to adopt a more reasoned policy.