Politics

Ryan Pushes Gun Reform with Caravan to Kentucky

NILES, Ohio – The accumulation of mass shootings over the years – punctuated by recent incidents in Dayton and El Paso – may represent a turning point in efforts to enact gun reform legislation, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan said this morning before launching a political caravan to Kentucky.

Ryan , D-13 Ohio, dismissed potential criticism that the caravan could be seen as a political stunt with his presidential campaign flagging in the polls.

He participated in a live segment on CNN shortly after 6 a.m. and spoke with local reporters at the Pine Tree Square Plaza. The plaza was the initial gathering point for his “Caravan for Change.” In addition to his staff and family, Ryan was joined by three others.

“This is going to be from the bottom up,” Ryan said. “It’s time for us to start playing offense, to be proactive, to continue the fight with the groups that have been engaged with this for a long time.” 

After stops in Akron, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, the destination of the caravan is a gun reform rally in Louisville, hometown of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican. The goal is to build grassroots support to get McConnell to act on gun reform legislation, including two background check bills passed by the U.S. House of Representative earlier this year.  

“Our No. 1 responsibility as elected officials is to keep people safe. This is a security issue,” Ryan said. 

Ryan was more pointed in a tweet addressed to McConnell.

“Where are your guts, Mitch? Grab your cojones and do something,” he wrote. “The American people are fed up. We need the Senate called back into session and we need action.”

Ryan, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, temporarily suspended his campaign to travel to Dayton after the early morning shooting Aug. 4. While there, he walked the street where the shooting took place and saw the bullet holes left from the shooting and talked to people who experienced it.   

“That moves you in a way that just reading about it doesn’t,” he said. 

Mass shootings have intensified in number over the years – thinkSandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. and Columbine High School in Columbine, Colo. – and the “back-to-back nature” of the shootings in Dayton and El Paso “really shocked people,” Ryan said. 

A subsequent incident of people reacting to a car backfiring in Times Square in New York – circulated on social media – illustrates where the country is. “There’s a very high level of anxiety in the country, and I think we can take steps to try to reduce that,” he said.    

Most of the country has been calling for such reforms for a “very long time,” Kathy DiCristofaro of Niles said. DiCristofaro, vice chairwoman of the Trumbull County Democratic Party, was among those preparing to participate in the caravan. 

“Our families cannot go through this any longer. We’re just asking for reasonable gun safety legislation,” she said. That includes background checks, banning assault weapons and closing loopholes in existing laws. 

“That magazine the Dayton shooter used should be illegal,” added Karen Zehr of Warren, who also was headed to Kentucky for the rally.  

Zehr acknowledged that activists have a “very short window” during which people will be focused on the issue. “It’s important to act on it now, keep the pressure on Mitch McConnell and the administration too, as the people in Dayton said, ‘Do something,’ ” she remarked. 

President Donald Trump earlier this year said he would not sign the background check legislation that passed the House. “We’ve got to make it very uncomfortable for him and very uncomfortable for Mitch McConnell not to pass it,” Ryan said. 

The congressman cited several changes in the political environment that indicate a turning point may have been reached, including Gov. Mike DeWine’s call this week for reforms related to gun safety and mental illness, and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner’s support for preventing sales of military-style weapons to civilians, magazine limits and red-flag legislation.  

While in Dayton, Ryan met with Turner, R-10, who represents the Dayton area. He said he would reach out to Turner today to discuss his proposals, which he acknowledged represent a “significant” turn for his colleague.

Turner’s daughter was near where the shooting took place Sunday morning. “That tends to have an impact,” Ryan said.     

Before departing for Kentucky, Ryan heard from Rory McLean of Howland, who urged him to tie mental health records to gun purchases or permit applications. Nearly two years ago, McLean’s daughter, Danielle, who had been in and out of mental health facilities, took her own life after purchasing a gun.  

The caravan comes a day after Trump visited to Dayton. During that visit, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, asked the president to call on McConnell to bring the Senate back into session this week and tell the Senate he wants the background checks legislation that the House approved brought to the floor. 

“I asked the president to promise to me and to the American people that he will sign that bill after he’s spoken out in support of it with Senator McConnell,” Brown said. “He said that we will get things done.” 

Brown also advised the president that if he was concerned about mental health – an issue he voiced in remarks earlier in the week – that it was important to not repeal the Affordable Care Act or cut Medicaid. Additionally, when the president said he wanted to do something to honor police officers that the most important thing he could do was “take these assault weapons off the streets.” 

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who described the Dayton and El Paso shootings as “unspeakable tragedies,” did not address background check legislation or Turner’s proposals in response to a request for comment . He said he was encouraged by the efforts of Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat, to work together on red-flag legislation. 

“I will continue to support common-sense bipartisan reforms to help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” he said. “I’ll continue to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate on bipartisan solutions that are effective.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, said he is open to “all good and practical ideas to protect people from gun crime,” but since he swore to defend the Constitution he can’t support measures that violate it.  

“Banning certain guns that look scarier than others doesn’t work and it also violates the Second Amendment,” he said. “I spent over 26 years in the military, so I’m pretty familiar with what a ‘military style’ weapon is – and it’s not what some people think it is.”

Pictured: U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan meets with the media before the Caravan for Change left for its first stop early Thursday morning.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.