Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.
This is a dictum for health care professionals to consider the possible harm that any intervention might do.
Politicians ought to conduct themselves by the same principle, especially when it comes to gun violence, as this too is a public health issue.
But instead, Ohio politicians have relentlessly loosened gun laws for 20 years, and gun violence in Ohio has kept going up.
On June 14, a new law passed by Ohio’s legislature and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine in fulfillment of his promises to the gun lobby will allow all Ohioans 21 and older to carry a concealed weapon they are legally allowed to possess.
House Democrats tried to amend into the bill language closing a loophole that allows buyers at gun shows to skirt background checks; another creating a legal mechanism to allow families and law enforcement to petition judges to temporarily seize weapons from people experiencing a mental health crisis; and a third requiring gun sellers to distribute a one-page pamphlet at the point of sale outlining Ohio’s gun laws.
All three failed largely along party lines.
Police and prosecutor organizations, anti-gun violence activists, and public health researchers opposed the new permitless carry law.
The gun lobby pushed it and even wrote testimony in favor of it given by the bill’s sponsors, state Reps. Tom Brinkman and Kris Jordan, in the Ohio General Assembly. Metadata attached to a copy of their testimony on the legislature’s website shows the executive director of Ohio Gun Owners as the author of the document.
Asked about this by Ohio Capital Journal, Brinkman said, “I have no idea who writes my testimony. I never write my testimony. I never write my floor speeches. That’s what staff is for.”
Ohio has steadily relaxed its gun laws over the last 20 years. The state created the concealed carry program in 2004, originally requiring 12 hours of training. That was whittled down to eight hours, and with the new law, no training whatsoever.
Statehouse lawmakers have also passed a pre-emption law blocking cities from enacting stricter gun policies than those of the state.
And in 2020, DeWine signed a so-called “stand your ground” law removing any duty to retreat before using deadly gun violence.
Statistics show as gun laws loosen, gun deaths increase.
Researchers with the American Journal for Public Health found states with looser concealed carry laws were associated with an 11% increase in handgun homicide rates. The National Bureau of Economic Researchers found states experienced about a 14% higher rate of violent crime after adopting a new concealed carry permitting system similar to Ohio’s current one.
Guns are now the number one cause of traumatic death in the United States, exceeding the 38,824 traffic fatalities in 2020 by 16%.
It’s not all homicide. Suicide by firearm is also a big problem. According to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, between 1999 and 2020 there have been large increases in annual rates of homicides (123%) and suicides (49%) in the state.
“Though they tend to get less public attention than gun-related murders, suicides have long accounted for the majority of U.S. gun deaths,” a recent Pew report says. “In 2020, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (24,292), while 43% were murders (19,384), according to the CDC.”
But the number of gun murders in the U.S. is catching up.
“Gun murders, in particular, have climbed sharply in recent years,” the Pew report said. “The 19,384 gun murders that took place in 2020 were the most since at least 1968, exceeding the previous peak of 18,253 recorded by the CDC in 1993. The 2020 total represented a 34% increase from the year before, a 49% increase over five years and a 75% increase over 10 years.”
In 2020, researchers from the Rand Corporation reviewed 123 studies and found moderate evidence that background checks, waiting periods and limited evidence that concealed carry restrictions all lessen violent crime.
It also found moderate evidence that so-called “stand-your-ground” laws — such as the one Ohio implemented last year — increase homicides.
Ohio lawmakers are considering 29 new gun-related laws this General Assembly.
Overall, Republican bills expand gun rights while Democratic ones put forward safety regulations.
While the GOP bills loosening gun laws get heard in committee, passed by committee, brought to the floor, passed on the floor, and signed by the governor, the 16 gun safety laws proposed by Democrats have received a grand total of one hearing in committee, and otherwise sit to die.
Today we all sit in horror.
Nineteen little kids and two of their teachers violently murdered in an American school.
Twenty-one more American families shattered — absolutely shattered — forever.
It’s almost unfathomable how disgraceful it is, how despicable it is, that we have to live in totally legitimate terror for our loved ones who have to go to an American school building every day.
We all have to live in terror of going out of town, or to church, or a concert, or a bar, or a grocery store.
We, as a society, are being terrorized.
As Howard Beale said, I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad.
And I’m not going to tell you what to do.
All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.
You’ve got to say, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!”
You’ve got to say, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
This commentary was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and is republished here with permission.
Stay connected with CityBeat. Subscribe to our newsletters, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google News, Apple News and Reddit.
Send CityBeat a news or story tip or submit a calendar event.