Friday, June 16, 2000

Senator wants gun bill on ballot

Adults would be held responsible for kids

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Legislature has been unable to pass a bill that would punish adults whose guns get into the hands of children, so voters should be asked to decide the issue, Sen. Eric Fingerhut, D-Cleveland, said Thursday.

        Mr. Fingerhut said he wants to collect enough signatures to place the matter before voters in the November 2002 election. He first would ask lawmakers to consider the issue but doesn't think they will act.

        A gun-safety bill died in the House Criminal Justice Committee in April when the chairwom an, Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, R-Aurora, didn't have enough votes to recommend passage.

        Mr. Fingerhut's proposal would closely follow Rep. Womer Benjamin's bill, which was supported by Republican Gov. Bob Taft. The bill sought misdemeanor charges against an adult if a child has access to the adult's gun and a felony charge if the child caused harm.

        The initiative also would expand background checks for gun buyers. Current federal law requires only licensed dealers to conduct the checks and exempts operators of gun shows.

        The proposal would need the signatures of 100,626 registered voters — or 3 percent of the total vote in the 1998 gubernatorial election — to qualify for the ballot, said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Secretary of State Kenneth Black well. By law, the Legislature must consider the issue first.

        Opponents of legislation — primarily the National Rifle Association (NRA) — have argued that current child endangerment laws cover gun safety violations but have not been enforced.

        Mr. Fingerhut disagreed.

        “Police and prosecutors have tried everything they can think of to hold adults responsible,” he said. “But the law is inadequate.”

        NRA spokesman John Hohenwarter predicted that Mr. Fingerhut will have a difficult time getting the signatures.

        “What you saw in the Legislature this spring was that public sentiment just doesn't buy that that's the right way to move,” Mr. Hohenwarter said. “Accidental firearms deaths are down in Ohio — he's trying to solve a problem that's not there.”


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