Sam Allard / Scene
Tara Samples and Dennis Kucinich, speaking out against assault weapons in Ohio communities (2/19/18).
Dozens of rain-soaked rallyers gathered in a meeting room at the downtown DoubleTree Hotel Monday afternoon as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich and his running mate, Akron City Councilwoman Tara Samples, alongside a roster of speakers and sign-wielding supporters, promoted a grassroots effort to ban assault weapons in Ohio.
The massacre that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week prompted the rally. The school shooting has riled Republicans as well as Democrats. Student survivors have called out their elected representatives on social media for failing to create sensible gun laws.
Even Ohio Governor John Kasich has changed his tune. He deleted a pro-gun portion of his website, and on a CNN appearance this weekend, he called for gun regulations and pressure on city and state legislatures. If local entities enact gun control legislation, Kasich suggested, Washington would follow.
"If you're a strong Second Amendment person you need to slow down and take a look at reasonable things that can be done to answer these young people [from Parkland]," Kasich said.
That position is something of an about-face for Kasich, who has been a dear friend to Second Amendment enthusiasts and who has passed six pieces of pro-gun legislation since his tenure began in 2011. Among other things, those laws have allowed guns in Ohio bars and restaurants and reduced the hours of training required for a concealed handgun license.
But his stated position, to pressure local governments, is precisely what Kucinich’s #BanAssaultWeapons rally was all about. Kucinich called the current national moment a “tipping point” and characterized the effort, which has already garnered nearly 2,000 signatures on his website, not as a political campaign but as a social movement.
“Enough is enough” was the mantra repeated by several speakers.
The Monday event was hastily relocated from the steps of City Hall due to inclement weather. But if the DoubleTree crowd’s clothes were dampened, their spirits certainly weren’t. Many appeared to be staying after the prepared remarks for an organizing meeting to coordinate strategies for applying pressure in their local communities.
Councilwoman Tara Samples from Akron and Councilman Marty Gelfand, from South Euclid, pledged to bring resolutions to their respective legislative bodies, calling on the statehouse to implement an immediate ban on assault weapons. Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell was present as well. He spoke about violence in his community — “You can get guns before you get jobs in my neighborhood,” he said — but did not address a Cleveland resolution directly.
Kucinich noted that in 1991, Cleveland was among the first cities nationally to enact an assault weapons ban. That ban was overturned 19 years later when the state’s attorney general took a case to the supreme court
that restricted cities from enacting local gun-control laws.
That attorney general was none other than presumed 2018 Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner: Richard Cordray.
Cordray hasn’t spoken in concrete terms about issues he’d tackle as Governor. And the gun issue may become one of the sharpest divides between him and Kucinich. On social media, Cordray called the Parkland, Florida shooting “gut-wrenching” and said “we need to come together to find better solutions to gun violence.”
But in the past, Cordray has said he would not support a statewide ban on assault weapons. Cordray is beloved by both the NRA and the Ohio Buckeye Firearms Association, who voted to endorse Cordray over Republican Mike DeWine for Attorney General in 2010. (DeWine won that election, and is also the Republican frontrunner in the 2018 governor’s race.)
“EVERY SINGLE OFFICIAL ACT Richard Cordray has ever taken,” wrote the
Buckeye Firearms Association, in 2010, has been consistent with a vibrant support of your Second Amendment rights.” (All-caps in original.)
It’s unclear if or how Cordray’s position has evolved. His campaign provided the following statement:
"Gun violence is an epidemic that has plagued our communities for far too long, and needs a comprehensive and solutions-based response. Rich and Betty have a concrete plan to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and protect our schools and our communities from gun violence. They know that solving this problem is going to require serious answers, not political slogans."
Joe Schiavoni is a democratic gubernatorial candidate from the Youngstown area who lost some momentum in the statewide race after the union of Cordray and his running mate Betty Sutton and the announcement of Dennis Kucinich’s campaign. He told Scene Monday that while he would not support a full ban on assault rifles, he is nevertheless committed to making sure they don’t end up in the wrong hands.
“We’ve got to be realistic,” Schiavoni told Scene by phone. “If you want to put forward a plan to save lives today, if you want to start really making a difference, we need well-rounded gun restrictions. If you ban assault weapons, the underground world would go crazy.”
Schiavoni said he is actively speaking with policy experts, legislators and stakeholders — including, notably, pawn shop owners — to create a bill. He said closing a gun show loophole — background checks are not enforced for certain private dealers at gun shows — mandating comprehensive background checks, effectively tracking online sales, and eliminating discrepancies in current regulations are all high on his priority list.
For example, Schiavoni said, gun dealers in Ohio must report purchases of two or more handguns to their local police department. Dealers are not, however, required to report purchases of multiple assault weapons.
“That’s a huge discrepancy and it doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
Schiavoni, a State Senator, also plans to introduce legislation again this week that he has introduced twice before, the first time immediately following the Sandy Hook school shooting. He wants to dedicate funding (an estimated $33 million) to give school districts flexibility to increase safety measures at their buildings.
As for Kasich’s national message this weekend, Schiavoni said he phoned the Governor’s office Monday and intends to keep pressuring him to make good on his talking points.
“Politicians say things,” Schiavoni said. “If he’s going to go and say that on national news, we’ve got to make him own it.”