Thursday, April 13, 2000

Taft's gun bill killed in committee

It mandated safe storage of firearms

BY Michael Hawthorne
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Gov. Bob Taft had his bully pulpit kicked out from under him Wednesday, a day after he pleaded with legislators to revive a safe-storage gun bill.

        Despite personal appeals from the governor, and a poll showing a majority of Ohioans support the idea, leaders of the Republican-controlled House acknowledged what they had suspected since the bill was introduced.

        There weren't enough votes to get the bill out of committee, let alone off the House floor.

        By withdrawing the measure from consideration, lawmakers scrapped one of the Republican governor's campaign promises and handed him his first major legislative defeat. They also granted the wish of the National Rifle Association, which mobilized gun advocates and unleashed a blitz of telephone calls and faxes urging defeat of the measure.

        “This is one of the most controversial issues we have in our country,” said House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, R-Reynoldsburg. “Given the lack of consensus, I don't expect it will come up for further discussion this year.”

        Under the governor's proposal, failure to safely store a loaded firearm could have led to a 60-day jail sentence and $500 fine if an unsupervised minor obtained the weapon. If anyone was seriously harmed or killed, the gun owner could have faced up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

        Lawmakers killed the bill as President Clinton rallied support in Colorado for a ballot initiative intended to tighten gun regulations. Like the Ohio measure, the Colo rado proposal is a reaction to the Columbine High School shootings and other gun tragedies across the nation.

        Mr. Clinton accused the gun lobby of trying to obstruct sensible gun control nationwide. Mr. Taft was more polite. His office issued a statement saying the gov ernor was “profoundly disappointed” the Ohio bill failed.

        “People who choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights should take all necessary precautions to ensure that their firearms do not fall into the hands of children,” Mr. Taft said.

        Opponents argued the measure was the first step in an attempt by gun control groups to curb an individual's constitutional right to bear arms. Critics also said it would have prevented people from protecting themselves.

        The NRA, which dubbed the bill the “Taft Burglar Protection Plan,” noted that adults already can be penalized under the state's child endangerment and negligent homicide laws.

        “Why demonize the firearm?” said John Hohenwarter, an NRA lobbyist. “The key to reducing firearm accidents isn't prosecuting people after the fact. It's educating our kids about the safe use of firearms.”

        Mr. Taft predicted his bill would have reduced the number of gun tragedies, just as tougher drunken-driving laws have reduced the number of accidents involving alcohol.

        States that have enacted safe-storage laws have had a 23 percent decrease in accidental deaths of children due to firearms, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

        Even if Mr. Taft had managed to dislodge his bill from the House Criminal Justice Committee, it would have hit a roadblock on the House floor. Opponents had vowed to offer an amendment authorizing most Ohioans to carry concealed weapons, a deal-killing idea that Mr. Taft repeatedly has vowed to veto.


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