Ohio Republican Senator Changes Course on Red Flag Proposal, Adds New Restraints

Ohio State Senator Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) has taken a step back from his initial plan to establish a red flag law in Ohio. He instead proposed, during legislative committee, a restriction on future gun purchases after a judge deems a person is a threat to themselves or others despite opposition from gun rights activists.

Senate Bill (SB) 357 originally aimed to add extreme risk laws, commonly known as red flag laws, to supposedly “protect the public and the gun owner” by temporarily removing a firearm from someone deemed by a judge to be suffering from a severe mental health condition.

According to U.S. LawShield, red flag laws allow a court order to not only remove someone’s current firearms, but to also prevent them from owning, purchasing, possessing, or transporting firearms and ammo for a specified period of time.

Dolan is now saying that removing the red flag law and adding additional restrictions is a better way to tailor the bill’s impact.

“Talking with the advocates, both on the mental health side and law enforcement side, a couple of things became clear. One is that we’re stigmatizing mental illness. Number two is we weren’t capturing the right people,” Dolan said.

Opponents of this bill such as the gun rights activist group, Ohio Gun Owners, say that the amended bill is not removing red flag provisions but rather heightening them.

“There’s some idiots out there who’ve been saying stuff like this isn’t really red flag, it’s red flags on steroids,” Chris Dorr, executive director at Ohio Gun Owners said.

The measure now relies on “behavioral risk assessments. ” The reviews conducted consider behaviors like suicidal tendencies, grievance collection, or making threats. It also considers contextual factors like if a person has been through a “personal catalyst event.”

“The idea is we want to make sure that we create a system where they have an assessment done, so we get the person help. And if that assessment reveals that there they are a violent threat, that they are prohibited from getting firearms,” Dolan said.

According to Dorr, these amendments are worse than red flag laws. Dorr said that red flag laws ordinarily require either law enforcement or immediate family to try to get an individual disarmed without having that individual convicted of a crime in court. Under the new restrictions, the bill opens it up so that any employer in Ohio has the ability to deem an individual necessary to sit through a mental health assessment funded by $175 million of state money. If an individual fails that assessment the law considers them disabled which means law enforcement can confiscate their firearms.

“If anybody thinks for a moment that once you are flagged by your employer and go to a mental health assessment team if you think that you’re not going to be disqualified…it’s all a sham. Nobody and I mean nobody in Ohio is going to survive a mental health assessment. They are all going to use these assessments to disarm you,” Aaron Dorr, Chris Dorr’s brother and executive director at Iowa Gun Owners said.

Under SB 357, if a judge considers an individual at risk of hurting themselves or others it would be determined that they have a disability for the purposes of acquiring, having, carrying, or using a firearm.

Fugitives, convicted felons, people convicted as juveniles of crimes that would have been felonies, people who are drug or alcohol dependent, or those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution also are considered disabilities, and individuals cannot legally purchase or possess a firearm under Ohio law.

Dolan’s measure also makes a number of changes that connect with firearm sales. The bill requires agencies to submit warrants and protection orders to background check databases. Dolan said that getting those orders into the database is a crucial way to stop dangerous sales.

“That’s a prohibitive factor from getting a weapon in Ohio. These orders are taking too long to get on the system. The background check is only as good as the system as the information that’s in it,” Dolan said.

The bill also increases penalties for individuals buying a firearm on behalf of another person unable to make the purchase themselves, known as a “straw purchase.” The penalties would increase from a fourth to a second-degree felony, with a two-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Anyone between the ages of 18 and 21 would need a co-signer older than 25 years old to purchase a firearm under Dolan’s proposal.

Dolan’s proposal asks for $175 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to pay for mental health training and new regional healthcare crisis centers. Dolan said that this approach will increase the number and distribution of mental health workers and the crisis centers would alleviate pressure on jails that are not equip to treat people in a mental health crisis.

Dolan insists that “The Second Amendment is not in any way violated by this bill.”

“This bill works on the laws that we already have in Ohio. This bill works on the concept that we’ve already accepted in Ohio. That there are certain levels that if you have those characteristics, those traits, those facts, you shouldn’t get a gun,” Dolan said.

The Buckeye Firearms Association questions Dolan’s stance on this bill.

“Dolan has voted for a variety of pro-gun bills, including permitless carry. And in his campaign to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, he promised to champion gun rights. But instead of protecting or advancing the Second Amendment, he chose to sponsor a massive gun control bill,” Dean Rieck Executive Director of Buckeye Firearms Association said.

Both gun rights advocates urge Ohioans to take legislative action against SB 357.

According to Dorr, opponents will have an opportunity to refute and oppose the bill in approximately three weeks.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Matt Dolan” by Matt Dolan. Background Photo “Gun Wall” by Michael Saechang. CC BY-SA 2.0.


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