Ohio looks likely to get its very own "Stand Your Ground" law soon.
House Bill 228, which Ohio House members will vote on today, would remove requirements that Ohio residents try to flee a confrontation before using deadly force in self-defense. Supporters, including gun rights groups, say removing the so-called "duty to retreat" gives residents a better chance to defend themselves in the case of a potentially deadly assault. But opponents, including statewide law enforcement and prosecutors' organizations, say it will encourage escalation of confrontations.
At its essence, the law shifts the burden of proof.
Twenty-seven states have codified stand your ground into law, and another seven basically observe stand your ground in practice due to past court precedent. In Ohio, there is currently no duty to retreat only when a person is in their home or vehicle.
“What a ‘duty to retreat’ functionally does is force law-abiding citizens into making tactically poor choices when confronted with a violent, criminal aggressor,” Ohioans for Concealed Carry Director Doug Deeken told House members at a hearing on the bill this summer.
But the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association disagrees. The group says Ohio law already provides for self-defense when a person feels they are in a legitimately life-threatening situation.
The laws have received scrutiny after a number of controversial killings, including the 2012 death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense after he confronted and struggled with Martin inside a Florida gated community where Martin was staying as a guest. In another Florida case earlier this year, law enforcement officials cited the law when declining to arrest Michael Drejka, who shot Markeis McGlockton after McGlockton pushed him down in a gas station parking lot.
Even Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara, who claims stand your ground wasn't applicable in his client's case, has questioned the law after McGlockton's killing.
"The problem I have is that people misinterpret the statute and are emboldened to use a gun," he told USA Today
this summer. "Look at this case. Pointing the gun? Absolutely. Shooting a warning shot? Fine. But shooting him?"
Ohio's proposed legislation, which lawmakers look likely to pass today, has been months in the making.
A House committee passed HB228 in May, but a final vote on the legislation was delayed in June. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has threatened a veto of the bill because House Republicans won't take up Kasich's suggested gun control reforms, including a "red flag" law that would bar gun sales to — and allow seizure of guns from — those exhibiting violent behavior.
House Speaker Ryan Smith says Republicans have enough votes to override Kasich's veto, however, and won't be considering Kasich's suggestions.
“There’s no gun law in America that’s going to stop a lot of this," Smith said this summer. "I mean criminals don’t abide by the law by their very nature so it’s not to say that we’re insensitive to it or don’t want to do something on it, it’s just people are very protective of the Second Amendment."
HB228 also contains a number of other measures loosening gun restrictions, including further legislation barring local municipalities from passing their own gun laws. The bill would also reduce some concealed carry violations to minor misdemeanors and do away with requirements that public schools, airports, courthouses and other public spaces post "gun free zones" signage.