COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) — The ballot initiative group that supports universal background checks announced on Friday they will be pushing for bringing the measure to lawmakers and potentially voters in 2021.
"We think that 2021 gives us the best opportunity to have a clear and simple and straight forward conversation with Ohio voters," said Dennis Willard, spokesman for Ohioans for Gun Safety.
Since the effort began earlier this year, the group has kept their options open as to when it would pursue the initiated statute, saying the earliest it would bring it up is on the November 2020 ballot and at the latest the November 2021 ballot.
They began accumulating petition signatures through grassroots means and volunteers, a slower process than paying for petition gatherers.
The deadline to turn in petitions to qualify for putting the initiated statute in front of lawmakers is Dec. 28.
The group does not plan to meet that deadline and has refocused their efforts in making 2021 their line in the sand.
An initiated statute is a bill that is drafted by regular people and put in front of lawmakers to deal with.
They can change the bill, make it better or worse, but ultimately they either have to pass the bill or not.
If they do not pass the bill, or if they pass the bill in a form that is unacceptable to the group that put the bill in front of lawmakers in the first place, more petitions can be gathered to put the original bill on the ballot for voters to decide if it should become law.
When the window closes at the end of December, lawmakers would be given until the following April to deal with the material, or not.
There are a number of reasons why Ohioans for Gun Safety have chosen to wait until 2021 to pursue this endeavor.
The first, and probably most important, is a potential lack of sufficient petition signatures.
They had to get 132,887 signatures that have to come from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
According to Ohioans for Gun Safety, many of the signatures they have are evergreen and should still be good next December when they plan to turn them in.
In order to still be valid, the signature must belong to someone who has not moved, been incarcerated, or died.
Another reason to hold off until 2021 is the political climate the measure would face heading into the 2020 presidential election.
Many are already preparing for a charged political fight over the next year, and the group doesn’t want to wade into that turbulent quagmire of competing ideas, especially as advertising space is finite, and because the demand for that space will be high.
The fear is the price for that space will high be as well.
For a grassroots organization like Ohioans for Gun Safety, spending wisely at a lower price will extend its ability to compete with opponents that are sure to push back against the measure should lawmakers refuse to deal with it themselves.
Another reason for delaying things until 2021 is a new crop of lawmakers.
Inevitably there will be new lawmakers occupying offices at the Statehouse.
How many of them will be favorable to bringing universal background checks to Ohio is yet to be seen, and will be determined by voters in the same 2020 election the group is avoiding.
Because they plan to deliver their petitions after the 2020 election, it will get to lawmakers at the beginning of the next General Assembly in January of 2021, right in time for new lawmakers to weigh in on the measure.
It is no secret that right now, a majority of lawmakers at the Statehouse refuse to pass universal background checks. If they wanted to, they could do so, and have been able to do so for years, but they haven’t.
The only way that will change is if different lawmakers are sent to Columbus that have a favorable view on the issue.
Should that fail, or should not enough of them be elected in 2020, the group still can fall back on their initiated statute going to the ballot after lawmakers reject it.
Yet another reason to wait until 2021 is a less crowded field.
The election in 2021 is not only an off-year election, but it’s also not even a mid-term election.
Virtually no major race will be on the ballot leaving competition for the attention of voters practically non-existent.
Additionally, in theory, prices for advertising should be lower due to a lack of demand. That isn’t exactly a boon, however, because lower prices cut both ways as opponents to the measure would also be able to stretch their dollars.
But if their coffers are drained by what could be a contentious presidential election the previous year, that could ultimately benefit the grassroots organization.
In the end, Ohioans for Gun Safety said they want to see universal background checks brought to Ohio.
They may be able to come up with the signatures to get it done sooner, but they feel the better path is to take one of the least resistance where their message can clearly land with voters.
And eventually, they will be able to say, “We gave lawmakers a chance to do this on their own, and they didn’t.” “People are angry. People are upset,” said Willard. “They know that this legislature is going in the wrong direction when it comes to gun violence. They want something to happen, they believe that the Governor’s efforts on background checks is woefully short of what is needed.”