AKRON – More than two years after the FOX 8 I-Team first revealed the weakness of a state gun law when compared to its federal counterpart, the Ohio Legislature has passed a bill that strengthens that law.
But the deal did not come without controversy – or compromise.
Almost three years ago, the I-Team rode along with Akron Police narcotics officers, and within a couple of hours, they had arrested someone who had a gun on him he wasn’t legally supposed to have.
“Happens all the time,” one of the officers told us.
“It makes me so mad I can’t see straight,” said Akron Police Chief Jim Nice.
The chief was passionate about the need to put some teeth into the law that forbids people with violent felony records with possessing a gun.
“In the federal system, the average person is doing seven years (in prison) for felon in possession of a firearm, compared to in the local (and state) system, seven hours,” he said.
State Senator Frank LaRose, a Republican whose district is in northeast Ohio, agreed the state law needed to be tougher.
Senator LaRose says it is important to have a strict, but narrow, law since statistics show one percent of criminals commit 57 percent of violent crimes.
“This is someone who’s proven to us repeatedly that they’re a danger to society, a danger to our neighborhoods, and a danger to our children,” he says.
Senator LaRose favored a law similar to the federal “felon in possession” law. But members of the Ohio House balked, because of the possibility that people who merely possess a gun – even if they have a violent past – may be doing so for their own safety.
“That was one of the arguments made by members of the House when they made their decision that they wouldn’t support this bill simply for someone who’s carrying (a gun),” he says.
In the end, a compromise was reached that said judges must sentence violent career criminals to an extra 2-11 years in prison if they brandish a gun, or use it in the commission of a crime.
But, unlike the federal law, if they merely possess a gun, that is not enough to charge them with a crime.
“The result of compromise,” Senator LaRose says, “gave us a bill I’m confident will protect the safety of Ohioans.”
Senator LaRose says the Attorney General’s office supports the bill as passed, and the Governor is expected to sign it into law.