FILE - Rifles at a gun show

Rifles on a table at a gun show in Winneconne, Wis.

A group of activists is looking to bring a legislative proposal on expanded background checks to the Ohio legislature for consideration. Most private gun transactions, such as sales at gun shows or auctions, would require a background check under the measure.

The proposal would exempt some private transactions, such as gifts between family members or providing a gun to someone for the sole purpose of hunting or taking a firearms training course.

“Our proposal is a simple, straight forward, common sense approach to closing loopholes on background checks for gun sales in Ohio,” Dennis Willard, spokesperson for Ohioans for Gun Safety, told The Center Square in an email.

“If someone buys a gun at a gun show, online or in a private transaction, we believe the buyer should undergo a background check,” Willard said. “It's that simple. And the vast majority of Ohioans and people across the United States, including gun owners, agree with us.”

The organization, Ohioans for Gun Safety, gathered 1,500 signatures for the proposal and submitted them to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. If the proposal gets through Yost and the Ohio Ballot Board without any challenges, the group will have to get 132,887 more signatures and then submit the proposal to the legislature 10 days before the next session in January, according to The petitioners must receive signatures from registered voters in at least half of Ohio’s counties.

If the legislature, which is currently controlled by Republicans in both chambers, fails to pass the measure in four months, then the petitioners will need to gather 132,887 more signatures to have the measure put up for a vote as a ballot proposal in the 2020 general election.

“We're optimistic that the governor and the Ohio General Assembly will recognize and respond to the will of the people,” Willard said. “Ohioans want common sense background checks on gun sales.”

Willard said that increasing gun background checks have been proven to lower crime rates in the United States. He cited a study that found that permit-to-purchase handgun laws in Connecticut was followed by a 40 percent reduction in firearm homicide rate and another study that found such laws likely decreased the suicide rate in Connecticut in Missouri. He also cited another study that found correlations between more firearm laws and less gun crime, but the authors of this study said they could not determine a cause-and-effect relationship.

But many gun rights activists disagree with this narrative, and question the effectiveness of background checks.

“The Department of Justice showed that 90 percent of criminals surveyed avoided background checks altogether when acquiring guns,” Jordan Stein, the director of communications for Gun Owners of America, told The Center Square via email.

“Furthermore, the current background check system (NICS) has a 95 percent false positive rate,” Stein said, “meaning that this system does a really bad job of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals but a great job of preventing honest citizens from being armed. In fact, a John Hopkins study of California’s Universal Background Checks found they had no impact on gun crime.”

Stein said there could be negative effects of this legislation, such as preventing people from getting firearms for safety purposes without needing to go through a long process or the establishment of a firearms registry.

Ohio should instead pass a constitutional carry law to make the state “safer and freer,” he added.

If the proposal becomes law, a first violation would be a fourth degree misdemeanor. Violators would face 30 days in jail, a fine up to $250 or both. A second violation would be a second degree misdemeanor, which could yield 90 days in prison, a fine up to $750 or both. All subsequent violations would be fifth degree felonies, which could yield a jail term between six and 12 months, a $2,500 fine or both.


Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia, Ohio and Michigan for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.