Gun Rights and the Ohio GOP at the Center of the 2012 Presidential Storm
By: Gerard Valentino
Ohio has voted for the winner of the presidential race in every contest since 1960, and everyone expects that streak to continue in 2012. For that reason, when Republican John Kasich won the 2010 gubernatorial race it was seen as a serious blow to President Obamaâ€™s reelection bid because it showed how the state is leaning at the very early stages of the 2012 presidential campaign.
In roughly 50% of presidential elections since 1960, however, the party in control of Ohio failed to carry the state for their presidential nominee. So, despite Kasichâ€™s victory over incumbent Ted Strickland, Ohio remains very much in play.
President Obama was able to carry the state in 2008 because former Governor Ted Strickland promised Ohio gun owners they had nothing to fear from an Obama presidency. At the time, Strickland had the support of gun groups in Ohio, and was well respected by the sportsmen community.
Losing Strickland creates a credibility problem for Obama with Ohio gun owners and the sporting community. If the reports that President Obama is planning to address the nation and call for more gun control are true, it might make him unelectable in Ohio.
Ohioâ€™s gun voters are dedicated to defending gun rights and the work of Buckeye Firearms Association, one of the most powerful state level gun groups in the country, keeps the issue on the political front burner. As we already know, as Ohio votes so does America, and despite the Ohio GOPâ€™s claim to the contrary, Ohioâ€™s gun voters are often the difference between victory and defeat.
Without Ted Strickland to use as a campaign tool, President Obama will not be able to trick Ohioâ€™s gun owners a second time.
But, the Ohio GOP has a problem as well due to Governor John Kasichâ€™s abysmal gun record while a member of Congress. His vote in favor on the 1994 Clinton Assault Weapons ban is of huge concern for Ohioâ€™s gun community and his unwillingness to disavow the vote has gun owners terrified.
Kasich has a golden opportunity to make up for his past sins if he calls on the Republican controlled state legislature to quickly pass HB45, a pro-gun reform bill that was introduced in late January. The bill is designed to bring Ohioâ€™s concealed carry law in-line with 40 other states, including those that border Ohio.
By openly and aggressively pushing HB45, Governor Kasich will help gun voters forget his anti-gun record. Quick passage of the bill would also help gun owners forget that the Ohio GOP failed to pass legal concealed carry reform for 16 years despite controlling the House, Senate and Governorâ€™s mansion.
Even when the GOP finally passed legal concealed carry in 2004, former Governor Bob Taft inserted poison pill provisions that were designed to scare Ohioans and keep them from getting a license.
Since HB45 removes most of Taftâ€™s poison pills, Governor Kasich can alleviate years of frustration felt by pro-gun Ohioans by making sure it passes. It will also help him establish credibility with gun owners, a huge asset while campaigning with the eventual Republican presidential nominee.
The fact that HB45 is in jeopardy at all is another reminder of the Ohio GOPâ€™s dismal support of gun rights over the last 25 years. It also puts longtime pro-gun Republicans who came to Kasichâ€™s defense on the gun issue during the campaign in a bad position.
If Governor Kasich asks the Republicans in the legislature to quickly pass HB45, it will end the concerns of pro-gun groups and go a long way in bringing the pro-gun vote back into the Republican fold. But, if the bill remains stalled, it will only reinforce the belief held by gun owners that the Ohio GOP takes them for granted.
The easiest political decision of John Kasichâ€™s life is right in front of him. All he has to do is honor his campaign promise to support gun rights by asking the Republicans in the legislature to get HB45 to his desk as quickly as possible.
Since the bill will bring Ohio law in line with at least 41 other states, there is little risk such a move backfiring.
Plus, doing so will inspire Ohioâ€™s huge gun community and the pro-gun Tea Party movement in anticipation of the 2012 presidential race.
If he fails to seize the opportunity, the Ohio GOP will remain fractured just as it was during the 2008 presidential election â€“ and we know how that turned out.
(Gerard Valentino is a co-founder of the Buckeye Firearms Association, BuckeyeFirearms.org, and his book The Valentino Chronicles is available in the Buckeye Firearms Association store.)