The debate about gun control that was reignited by last week’s tragedy at Parkland High School is playing out in Ohio’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, where Dennis Kucinich is calling out his opponent Richard Cordray for his track record as a pro-gun advocate.
Kucinich, considered the most progressive candidate in the race, is calling for Ohio to ban assault weapons. “We are going to change the politics of the state on this single issue,” he said at a press conference in mid-February.
The former Cleveland mayor and member of Congress and his running mate, Akron City Council Member Tara Samples, plan to enlist volunteers to pressure local city councils to pass resolutions urging the state to ban weapons similar to the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting. The campaign announced that in the first 24 hours after it issued this call, 1,500 Ohioans signed up to volunteer.
Meanwhile, a pair of Democratic Ohio senators this week introduced legislation that would make it a fifth-degree felony to possess or acquire assault weapons.
However, Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief, has thus far not joined the push to ban assault weapons. Cordray, the frontrunner in the Democratic race, went only as far as saying, “We also need to rethink our approach to military-style weapons that are used to perpetrate mass shootings.” He is instead supporting expanding universal background checks and other more modest reforms.
“Cordray’s refusal to support an assault weapons ban in Ohio puts him on the wrong side of recent federal court decisions, and the wrong side of all Ohioans who want to see these weapons off the streets,” Kucinich said in a statement. “Ohio’s next Governor will either lead the way to an assault weapons ban, or support a deadly status quo. The assault weapons ban has become a defining issue in the Democratic primary election.”
Cordray’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Polling conducted in late January found that Cordray had the support of 23 percent of Democratic voters, while 16 percent backed Kucinich. A whopping 52 percent of voters were undecided, but the growing Democratic Party-aligned activism related to guns may end up being a factor in the May 8 primary.
In a recent campaign email, Kucinich’s campaign pointed out that Cordray as Ohio’s attorney general helped lead a legal defense of a law that prohibits Ohio’s cities from pursuing assault weapon:
In 1991, Cleveland enacted an Assault Weapons Ban. Nineteen years later, upon taking office, the newly-elected Democratic Ohio Attorney General and NRA champion took it upon himself to lead the charge to defend the NRA-controlled state legislature’s effort to strike down the assault weapons ban in the case entitled “Cleveland vs. State of Ohio”.
He succeeded, while simultaneously offering his services to bring a case to the U.S. Supreme Court which resulted in a decision nullifying the ability of local communities across our nation to make gun laws to protect their people. Home rule was overturned in favor of state government control. It was a massive shift away from #PowerToWeThePeople, to Power To The Lobbyists.
In late 2006, the Ohio legislature passed a preemption law that would prohibit any city from passing gun laws that are stricter than those of the state.
This infuriated the city officials who ran Cleveland, which had passed a law that prohibited the possession of assault weapons and required handgun registration. They took the state to court.
As the state’s attorney general, Cordray helped author a merit brief before the state’s Supreme Court in 2010. That year, the court upheld the 2006 law in a 5-2 decision. “Law-abiding gun owners would face a confusing patchwork of licensing requirements, possession restrictions and criminal penalties as they travel from one jurisdiction to another,” Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton wrote.
Justice Paul E. Pfeifer offered an opposing view, writing that the law “infringes upon municipalities’ constitutional home-rule rights by preventing them from tailoring ordinances concerning the regulation of guns to local conditions.”
“This is an important victory for every gun owner in Ohio,” Cordray said in a statement following the court case. “Before 2006, Ohioans faced a confusing patchwork of local ordinances with different restrictions on gun ownership and possession.”
The Plain Dealer, a Cleveland newspaper, noted that Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, “echoed Cordray’s comments” in his own statement on the case. “If Cleveland, or any other city, wants to crack down on violence, city leaders there should focus on prosecuting criminals, not enacting new gun laws that only serve to restrict law-abiding citizens,” Cox said at the time.
Kucinich has also taken issue with Cordray joining a number of pro-gun conservative attorneys general in co-sponsoring an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the McDonald v. City of Chicago case in 2009. The law enforcement officials asked the court to rule that state and local governments cannot get in the way of the constitutional right to bear arms.
That case served as a follow-up to the decision in the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller, which affirmed that the Second Amendment applies to the individual right to keep and bear arms. The McDonald case revolved around Otis McDonald, a retired engineer who wanted to purchase a handgun but couldn’t because of Chicago’s restrictive gun laws. He and three other residents of the city filed a lawsuit that eventually went all the way up to the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments, as well as the federal government. Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, called the decision “a great moment in American history.”
“We are proud to defend the Second Amendment rights of Ohioans in this important Supreme Court case. We are joining with other state attorneys general in arguing that the court should hold that the people’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms is fundamental and cannot be denied by state and local governments,” Cordray said at the time. “The Supreme Court has now given full meaning to the Second Amendment for all Americans, no matter where we live or what level of government might seek to restrict our rights.”
The Buckeye Firearms Association, an Ohio-based gun rights group, endorsed Cordray in 2010, citing his defense of Ohio’s preemption law and the 2009 amicus brief.
Buckeye Firearms Association Chair Jim Irvine said at that time, “Attorney General Cordray has proven to be a strong pro-gun ally. He has staunchly defended our laws and our rights in court and expanded concealed carry reciprocity agreements. His work as Attorney General continues to bring direct benefits to gun owners in Ohio and across our great country.”
In an statement to The Intercept, Buckeye Firearms Association Executive Director Dean Rieck said that the group has generally viewed Cordray as an ally, but is critical of his more recent advocacy for universal background checks.
While Richard Cordray has been pretty good on our issue for many years, we do not support the idea of so-called ‘universal’ background checks, which would infringe on the right of personal property owners. Instead, we support enforcing the law and making sure all required data is included in the current background check system. What universal background checks would do is prohibit me, for example, from passing down a family heirloom to a relative. It would not stop people who are already prohibited from owning firearms from continuing to get guns through the black market. As for helping to defend the law prohibiting cities from banning assault weapons, Cordray did exactly what he should have done. Ohio has ‘preemption,’ which prohibits cities from illegally enforcing gun laws that run counter to state law. As Attorney General, that was his job at that time, and he did it.