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COVID-19 Halts Gun Control Measures

COVID-19 Halts Gun Control Measures

 

COVID-19 Halts Gun Control Measures – Douglas I. Leifert – https://www.leifertlaw.com/

Gun reform and safety has been an issue of national concern for several years, as well as the subject of a heated debate. The gun reform bills that activists had been pushing so hard for appear to have been forced to halt in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the strongest examples of these setbacks comes from Ohio, where activists are saying that the inability to collect signatures has led to a severe lack of support needed to get a bill on the ballot.

Ohio Gun Reform Initiatives

Ohioans for Gun Safety were seeking to gain similar success to that of groups in Washington and Nevada, who in 2016, expanded the background check requirements for private gun sales. The group is run by volunteers and began with a listening campaign that consisted of surveying gun owners at various events across the state. This happened over the course of more than a year.

With the help of other gun activist groups and legal experts, the language was drafted. The group then gathered the 2,000 signatures required to propose the language and bill, moving on to the new goal of 250,000 signatures to get it on the ballot for voting. Ohioans for Gun Safety extended their goal to reach the 2021 ballot in order to have more time for gathering signatures, but this was halted when the pandemic hit.

In April, Ohio’s state department issued a stay-at-home order to curb the spread of COVID-19. Much of the Ohioans for Gun Safety volunteers are members of the vulnerable population, causing them to fully stop signature collecting operations. This same situation happened in Oklahoma and Oregon. This extended their deadline until 2022. With these setbacks and limited support, 2020 is the first election in six years that will not feature a gun reform initiative on a ballot anywhere in the country.

The Possibility for Electronic Signatures

Some other states, like Montana, New Jersey, and Utah, allowed for electronic signature collection, allowing for those campaigning to continue their efforts. However, such a tool was not made available in Ohio, even after groups advocating for ballot initiatives sued the state in April.

Similar fights took place in Arizona, but this was blocked by the Supreme Court soon before the stay-at-home order was lifted in May. Those seeking to add the legalization of recreational marijuana, looser sentencing laws, and income tax increases to the ballot resumed their canvassing as soon as the order lifted in Arizona.

Non-COVID Barriers to Reform

Such initiatives didn’t just face COVID-19 as a barrier to their success. In Oklahoma, the state’s Supreme Court blocked a ballot effort to repeal the permitless carry law. According to the court, the language of the initiative was insufficient in describing the measure. In order to collect signatures, the petition would have needed to be rewritten and then resubmitted. By the time such an action could have been completed, activists wouldn’t have had enough time to collect signatures. Ordinarily, they would receive 90 days to collect 95,000 signatures, however, with limited time, the task was nearly impossible.

Ohio also struggles to pass gun control measures with a republican majority General Assembly. Ohio Governor DeWine (Rep.) introduced a proposal “STRONG Ohio” in 2019, calling for increased background checks for those purchasing firearms. This came after a mass shooting in Dayton that year. The goal of such legislation is to prevent someone from buying a gun that the court has deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

However, the General Assembly would not move on the legislation—meaning nothing has come of it. This hesitancy of Republican lawmakers to implement gun reforms in Ohio is what has led many activists to pursue the ballot initiative process, which goes around politics and puts the decision directly in front of constituents (but only after receiving the necessary number of signatures).

Looking Forward

With the delay of almost two years for Ohio, it will take time to see if such measures will make it onto the ballot or be brought through the General Assembly. Currently, it is unclear what would have come of the ballot initiatives in Ohio (or around the country) if the nationwide stay-at-home orders in response to COVID-19 hadn’t halted the collection of signatures.

However, with the general pushback often seen by gun reform policies, it is apparent that gun reform initiatives often face an uphill battle, regardless of a pandemic.

COVID-19 Halts Gun Control Measures – Douglas I. Leifert – https://www.leifertlaw.com/

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