Ohio needs more action than lowered flags in gun tragedies
“In remembrance of the victims.” That’s the template phrase routinely inserted in statements from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine whenever he orders flags flown at half-staff after a mass shooting. He did the same Sunday after the latest slaughter in Texas over the weekend – the second deadliest shooting in a year already filled with victims of large-scale gunfire.
DeWine might as well keep flags lowered to half-staff indefinitely. It’s a little ridiculous to keep raising and lowering them when bloody mass shootings are the norm in America. By the time you read this, another active shooting may well be underway somewhere in the country and we’ll pause, ask where, and move on to something else.
In the week before a Texas gunman fired a barrage of bullets into a crowded outdoor mall on a Saturday afternoon, killing at least eight shoppers, there were almost too many mass shootings to keep straight. Days before another Texas shooter, blasting his weapon in his yard, gunned down five lives after neighbors asked him to stop.
A few days later, a Tulsa gunman fatally shot six people, including his wife and three children. Then yet another shooter opened fire mid-week at a medical office building in Atlanta. It’s insane. 2023 began with a shooting massacre in Monterey Park, California that killed 11 ballroom dancers.
In less than five months there have been 199 “mass shootings,” defined as the shooting of at least four people by the Gun Violence Archive, a database of shootings in the U.S. But the horrific events are so frequent they hardly register shock, disbelief or sustained attention anymore.
Carnage has become common. Ditto the formulaic response to the gruesome aftermath of a mass shooting where multiple victims never stood a chance against the usual weapon of choice.
Cue the candlelight vigils with teddy bear memorials, press conferences, sympathetic politicians, and reports about the extraordinary killing capacity of an AR-15 rifle. Then lower the flags to half-staff while the “thoughts and prayers” politicos get back to work for the gun lobby.
It’s what happened after the deadly mass shooting in Dayton four years ago, right after the deadly mass shooting in El Paso. In both cases, the gunmen used what police described as semi-automatic, assault-style weapons carrying enough ammunition to kill dozens in a matter of minutes.
The Dayton shooter, according to the FBI, fired 41 shots in 30 seconds killing nine people and wounding dozens more. DeWine ordered flags to fly at half-staff in remembrance of the Dayton dead and offered his prayers while mourners screamed at him to “do something” about gun violence.
It was a spontaneous outburst of public frustration with the maddening dog and pony show of do-nothing politicians lamenting the senselessness of a mass shootings while refusing to protect people from the next one. DeWine’s promise to address gun violence was all talk and no action.
But he did sign a slew of bills written by gun lobbyists and fast tracked through the Statehouse by obliging lawmakers that relaxed gun control laws designed to safeguard Ohioans. He and Republican legislators chose the NRA and generous campaign checks over Ohio citizens.
They sided with extreme, no-compromise, gun-rights absolutists who claim (wrongly) that the rights enumerated in the Second Amendment—unlike every other amendment subject to restrictions on constitutional rights—are uniquely exempt and absolute. This line of attack by the NRA puts the rights to armament and ammunition over the countervailing public interest of curbing epidemic gun violence.
Our collective security and freedom to live without fear of a mass shooting in Ohio has been ceded by our political leaders to gun lobbyists who oppose any law of any sort that limits or slows the ability of anyone to get any weapon anywhere—in the interest of saving lives.
Ohio Republicans continue to capitalize on their success enacting NRA-sanctioned laws that put gun rights over our right to life. Gerrymandered districts insulate them from account. Last year they did away with concealed carry permits, background checks and training.
They gave people a license to kill in a Shoot First (Stand Your Ground) state. They armed school employees with reduced training. They preemptively prohibited gun stores from being closed in an emergency e.g., a pandemic, (which didn’t happen in Ohio) and barred police from outlawing firearms, ammo, and explosives when suppressing a riot. (what could go wrong?)
More radical gun legislation is moving through the General Assembly to DeWine’s rubberstamp. A GOP bill in the Ohio House attempts to nullify federal gun laws and prevent state and local law enforcement from cooperating with federal authorities enforcing the law of the land.
Another measure that sailed through the Ohio Senate to the House preemptively prohibits liability insurance for owners of lethal weapons (guns, knives) in a state that requires owners of motor vehicles to carry coverage for what can also be deadly weapons. When Republican lawmakers try to deter anticipated gun reform with legislation to derail commonsense public guardrails, mass shootings are here to stay.
But in token remembrance of the escalating toll of gun violence—from dead school children to murdered Daytonians and slain weekend shoppers—by all means governor, lower those flags to half-staff.
Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.
This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.