Jack Torry Dispatch Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — In a sharp departure from the views that won him the National Rifle Association’s endorsement in 2014, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he would support new gun restrictions such as universal background checks and perhaps a ban on the sale of some semi-automatic assault weapons.
During an interview Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, Kasich expressed support not only for background checks for people trying to buy guns, but also for banning what are known as bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic weapon to be converted into an automatic weapon.
But Kasich went even further: In the aftermath of the shooting deaths of 17 people at a Florida high school last week, he raised the possibility of prohibiting the sale of semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15, which was used in that shooting.
Shortly after the CNN interview, Kasich’s aides removed from his campaign website a page that had boasted that as governor, Kasich had “signed every pro-Second Amendment bill that crossed his desk.” Those bills included measures that made it potentially legal to carry concealed weapons in day-care facilities and on college campuses.
John Weaver, an adviser to Kasich who helped direct his 2016 quest for the Republican presidential nomination, said Kasich “is a supporter of the Second Amendment, but like many Americans — if not most — his views have evolved with the dramatic increase in school shootings and mass killings.”
“We want our leaders to be unafraid to observe, listen and learn,” Weaver said, adding that “we urge” President Donald Trump to “follow suit.”
Kasich’s abrupt reversal of his opposition to gun restrictions is yet another sign that he plans to seek the presidency in 2020, as either a moderate Republican or an independent. But his new stance is certain to infuriate the NRA, which has a major role in Republican presidential primaries.
Kasich’s most astonishing shift was on semi-automatic assault weapons. Kasich asked on CNN whether anyone would “feel as though your Second Amendment rights would be eroded because you couldn‘t buy a God-darn AR-15? These are the things that have to be looked at. And action has to happen.”
As a member of the U.S. House in 1994, Kasich voted to ban the production and sale of 19 models of semi-automatic assault weapons. But when he ran for president in 2016, he called the ban “superfluous, and we don’t need laws that are superfluous. It didn’t have any impact.”
The ban expired in 2004 when Congress did not renew it.
Kasich said he has formed a committee in Ohio of people “on both sides of the issue” to propose recommendations on gun safety. Neither Kasich nor his aides have said who is on the committee.
“If they don’t produce anything, I’ll put my own stuff out,” Kasich said.
David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said he was “glad” that Kasich is on national TV and “speaking out” on guns.
“Hopefully he’s got some ability to work with the Statehouse to find solutions and roll back some of the worst pieces of legislation they pushed through in the last seven years,” Pepper said.
Kasich, who has yet to introduce a bill restricting the sale of guns in Ohio, called on Trump to “lead on this,” adding that “this is a great opportunity for common-sense steps that can be taken just in the area of background checks.”
“There should be no ability to do a casual sale without somebody having to find out who they‘re selling the gun to and what is involved,” Kasich said. “The president should be for that.”
“When it comes to the issue of mental illness … we need to take a look across the country that, if somebody‘s mentally ill, it needs to be reported,” Kasich said. “And if somebody becomes emotionally distraught, it must be immediately examined by local law enforcement or the FBI.”