COLUMBUS – Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, was not an ordinary day in Ohio.
That’s because in the early morning hours, Connor Betts fired 41 bullets from a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle with 100-round drum magazines in the Oregon District in Dayton, killing nine people, including his sister. Dayton police shot and killed him within 30 seconds of his first shot.
Not surprisingly, that day began like no other for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
“I got a call at 2 a.m.,” on Aug. 4, DeWine told a crowd of more than 120 Ohio attorneys and judges attending a domestic violence and trauma informed care continuing legal education course in the Ohio Statehouse atrium on Aug. 9. The seminar was sponsored by several law-related organizations, including the Southern District of Ohio’s U.S. District Court, the Columbus chapter of the Federal Bar Association and the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.
It was during that phone call DeWine learned of the third major tragedy to befall Dayton since May 25. That day, a hotly-debated and previously worrisome KKK rally ended up attracting only nine marchers, although hundreds came to protest the gathering. Just three days later, a violent tornado ripped through the city, killing one, injuring dozens and causing millions in damage.
Then came Aug. 4.
DeWine went to the scene of the slayings, where enormous splotches of blood stained the sidewalk and street.
“There was a vendor selling tacos,” he recalled. “His food cart was still there and food was still there. But blood was still there, too, where he was shot and died.”
DeWine, who has held positions including Greene County Prosecutor, Ohio Attorney General, U.S. senator and now governor, said of that experience, “I walked the Oregon District to see where the shooting occurred. I have been to a lot of crime scenes, but never one where 10 people died.”
Immediately following the murders, a chorus of anti-gun advocates loudly urged the Ohio Legislature to swiftly enact gun control measures.
Two days later, on Aug. 6, DeWine announced his version of the “red flag” law, expanded background checks and other gun control proposals. The propositions mark a dramatic shift from how Ohio’s state leaders have addressed gun control measures for nearly a decade.
“We have an obligation to look at not just this tragedy but related tragedies to see (if there are) lessons we can take from them to save lives,” DeWine said.
He said he is “convinced” his suggestions will save lives.
“Each will make things better,” he said.
DeWine also expressed his concern about societal stigmas associated with mental health, noting, “93% of people with severe mental health problems in this state are not violent.”
He also said the due process rights of gun owners need to be strengthened in Ohio. He wants an “elaborate due process” system to be created that will prevent anyone’s weapons from being taken away from them before certain steps are taken by either a family member or police.
A safety protection order, also known as a red flag, is initiated when a family member or authorities file it with a county prosecutor. The gun owner must be formally notified and a hearing on the matter must be held within three days in front of a Common Pleas Court Judge.
“They must be served and have the right to be in court,” said DeWine of the gun owner.
The governor also noted how the state’s new budget, which he signed into law July 18, devoted $675 million to “wraparound services” in Ohio schools. For example, the funds can pay for mental health counseling, school clinics and more, he said.
“I hope a lot is spent on counseling and mental health,” DeWine said.
According to DeWine, Ohio nearly bottoms the list of states where children have suffered more than three traumas in their young lives. However, “unlike 10 to 15 years ago, we now know how to treat” those in suffering, he said.
But, he added, “We have to reach this child."
Tami Kamin Meyer is a freelance writer.