New poll finds gap between Ohioans and lawmakers on gun issues

Second Amendment

New poll shows more than 90% of Ohioans want mandatory background checks for gun buyers. 88% want mandatory training for concealed carry permits. But lawmakers are unlikely to change positions.

Ohioans across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support gun safety regulations, including some shot down by Ohio lawmakers, a new statewide survey finds.

Roughly nine out of 10 Ohioans support mandatory background checks for gun buyers and training to get a concealed weapons permit, according to a USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University survey taken earlier this month.

About three out of four Ohioans support a law requiring guns to be safely stored, along with a red-flag law allowing family or police to seek removal of firearms from individuals considered harmful to themselves or others.

And slightly more than half of Ohioans favor a ban on high-capacity magazines or assault-style weapons, according to the survey, which was conducted July 9-12 of 500 likely Ohio voters, 57% of whom say they or someone in their house owns a gun.

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Elected leaders ‘out of touch’ with citizens

The survey suggests that Ohioans are far more willing to regulate guns and gun access than Republicans who control the General Assembly and have largely blocked gun control measures in recent years.

While 88% of Ohioans favor mandatory training for concealed carry permits, Ohio lawmakers last year eliminated all training requirements. The legislature also blocked a set of tougher gun laws — including a background check provision — proposed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine after a 2019 mass shooting in Dayton killed nine and wounded 27, even though 92% of Ohioans favor background checks.

“The majority in the legislature is out of touch with the majority of the people of the state of Ohio,” Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said. “This verifies that really graphically.”  

Support for background checks and concealed weapons training cross political and geographic boundaries in Ohio.

Among self-described Democrats, nearly 99% favor background checks, while 88% of Republicans support them. Likewise, 96% of Democrats support concealed carry training while 83% of Republicans do.

More on Columbus gun violence: Glock switches on Columbus streets: Here’s how the tiny devices pose an outsized threat

“I am a huge advocate of background checks,” said Barbara Hykes, a retired AT&T worker in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, who describes herself as politically independent. “I think they should be conducted not only for gun dealer sales, but also at gun shows like the ones they have at Westland Mall.”

Responses to questions on mandatory safe-storage and red-flag laws revealed a partisan divide but still showed strong overall support for some gun control. Ohioans across the political landscape consider steps such as background checks and concealed-carry training to be common-sense safety measures, not an attack on gun rights.

“I’m a big proponent of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, but people forget the Second Amendment is for a well-regulated militia,” said Eric Chivington of Worthington, a regional manager of a cell-phone company.  

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Chivington described himself as a Republican and said he enjoys shooting. But “at the same time there are limits to how we use our rights,” he added.

Other gun owners and Republicans also said they support some tougher gun-safety requirements.

“To me, a gun is a big responsibility, like driving a car,” said Connie Marsh, a retired law enforcement reserve officer from Dover, south of Canton, who enjoys shooting. “You have a certain amount of training to achieve before you can drive a car because you can kill people.”

Several Ohioans who took part in the poll said they are concerned about gun violence in the state.

“Even aside from the mass killings and the terrorists, I just get sick and tired of hearing on the local news the murders of people every single week, sometimes every single night, and it’s oftentimes something stupid; it’s just insane,” said Ramona Taylor, a retired insurance salesperson from Columbus.  

Shola Azeez was born in the U.S. but said he feels safer from gunfire in Nigeria, where he spent much of his youth.

“I can roam the streets in Nigeria without ever worrying about a mass shooting,” said Azeez, an insurance adjuster in Reynoldsburg who described himself as politically independent. “There’s a total contrast between what’s going on here and across the world. … I took my family to watch a movie at the movie theater recently; I’m always looking around. We just need to do a better job protecting our citizens.”

‘You can’t penalize everybody’

While Ohioans favor stronger gun-safety requirements, they were more divided on whether high-capacity magazines or assault weapons should be banned. Overall, 54.6% of Ohioans said yes, but the survey’s 4.4% margin of error means support could range from 50.2%, or dead center, to 59%, a comfortable majority.

Responses to the question revealed a deep partisan divide: 88% of Democrats favor a ban while 29% of Republicans do.

Ben Brooks, a former Marine and retired IT professional in Westerville, said he favors a ban but acknowledged the devil is in the details.

“In general I’m in favor of an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines, but define high capacity — I’m not sure what that means. Ten bullets? That’s not high capacity, but 50? That’s ridiculous,” Brooks said. “As for assault weapons, they were designed for one thing, for the military to kill people quickly. We don’t let people own cannons or machine guns.”

Other Ohioans also wondered how such a ban would work and how it would impact responsible gun owners.

“There are lots of people out there who are very careful with their guns and enjoy taking their guns out shooting. I do, my kids do, so why limit people who are safe because some aren’t?” asked Marsh. “You can’t penalize everybody because a few people aren’t using their heads.”

Ohioans also questioned giving cities, townships and other local governments the power to pass their own gun restrictions, as Columbus, Cincinnati and other cities have done. Only 39% of Ohioans said they support allowing local governments to pass their own gun laws.

More: Should Ohio cities be able to pass gun laws? Cincinnati sues state over restrictions

“I don’t want siloed laws,” said Azeez. “I don’t want municipalities or states or sections of the country to have their own law. Then you become handicapped on where you can cross the line. It needs to be a general law.”

Legislative leaders in Ohio not likely to act

Public polling is unlikely to change the minds of Ohio’s Republican majority in the state legislature because many of them view restrictions on gun ownership as “constitutionally questionable.”

“Polls are interesting, but they’re not helpful in policy making often,” Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said. “They’re not a good way to govern.”

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For example, he thought Ohioans would overwhelmingly say lying is bad, but the First Amendment protects our right to be dishonest.

And Huffman suspected support for things like universal background checks, red-flag laws and safe storage requirements would drop if voters were asked about specific policies.

“What background checks are we talking about? Court records? Financial records?” Huffman said. “And how far back should we look?”

Huffman said people might oppose a specific background check law if it banned gun ownership to someone with a misdemeanor drug possession charge from 20 years ago.

“There’s a great difference between a poll and a policy,” he said.

Those in favor of more gun regulations, however, believe a powerful gun lobby is the real reason the legislature isn’t pushing safety measures.

“The NRA (National Rifle Association), which used to be a place where gun owners could learn about gun safety and issues like that, turned into this political entity that has the money and the power and uses that for promoting the industry that makes guns and bullets, which is why we don’t have gun laws in America,” said Taylor.

As for assault weapons, they were designed for one thing, for the military to kill people quickly. We don’t let people own cannons or machine guns.

Ben Brooks, Westerville resident

More: Timeline: How Ohio gun laws have changed in last 20 years

Ohio Democrats have introduced several gun bills this year, but none of them are expected to get more than one hearing. The GOP controls the House, Senate and governor’s mansion and their position on the Second Amendment is clear.

Even DeWine, who tried and failed to pass a red-flag law after the Dayton mass shooting, has backed away from that position.

“He deals with the world as he finds it,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said. “The governor is focused on where we can make the most difference in this area.”

And that’s increasing mental health services for all Ohioans and the penalties for repeat offenders who use firearms to commit crimes.

“The mass shootings grab the headlines,” Tierney said. “But when you look at the cumulative total of gun violence in the state, more deaths come from people who shouldn’t have guns in the first place.”

The challenge, say some Ohioans, is how to keep guns out of only the wrong hands.

“This is America, it’s a free country,” said Marsh, the Dover retiree. “It would be nice to only keep guns from those who will misuse them but how can you do that?”

AnnaStaver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio. Jim Weiker reports for The Columbus Dispatch.

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