Home Social Justice ‘Stand Your Ground’ bill stirs up controversy in Ohio

‘Stand Your Ground’ bill stirs up controversy in Ohio

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Photo credit: Chris Vanocur, WSYX6 Columbus. Image from https://twitter.com/cvanwsyx6 used with permission

Ohio may soon have its own version of the law that made Florida’s George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin household names this summer.

State legislators are considering H.B. 203 – colloquially known as the “Stand Your Ground law” – which would legally permit crime victims to use deadly force if necessary against an aggressor in a life-or-death situation.

Under current law, crime victims must first make an effort to run away from the situation before using lethal force. Additionally, the state’s current “castle doctrine” allows homeowners and drivers to use deadly force against possibly dangerous intruders inside their own home or vehicle. This doctrine came into play earlier this year, when a Toledo man shot and killed an intruder who was attempting to break into his home in the middle of the night.

H.B. 203, introduced by Republican Rep. Terry Johnson, would take Ohio’s current self-defense provisions even further. Instead of being expected to flee the scene of a dangerous situation, a crime victim would have a duty to use deadly force in self-defense if he or she believed that his or her own life was in danger.

The bill has stirred up its fair share of controversy since it was introduced in June. On one side of the issue are advocates for Second Amendment rights, who say that H.B. 203 will prove beneficial to those who find themselves in dangerous, potentially life-threatening situations.

“It’s removing a legal hurdle that a crime victim has to clear in the middle of a violent encounter,” said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association. “Currently, you have the right to try and defend your life, but you have a duty to try and get away first…[H.B. 203] removes an unreasonable burden on the crime victim.”

Irvine emphasized his belief that the current legal standard is unreasonable and tips the scales in favor of a dangerous perpetrator.

“It’s not fair to force the crime victim to try and outrun the aggressor in a life or death situation. Stand Your Ground removes that very difficult obstacle,” he said.

On the other hand, opponents of the bill – including about 200 people who rallied at the statehouse in Columbus on Oct. 2 – believe that the proposed law could make things even worse for the general public.

Columbus City Council member Michelle Mills chairs the council’s public safety and judiciary committee. She offered a public safety perspective on why she believes H.B. 203 could be dangerous if passed.

“Instead of keeping us safer, these laws have led to more deaths than are necessary. We need to pay attention [to what they really do],” Mills said. “It’s not in the best interest of law enforcement or citizens.”

She cited the fact that since Florida’s statute – the first of its kind in the nation – was signed into law in 2005 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the homicide rate in that state has increased 200 percent.

Mills is currently drafting a resolution for the General Assembly in which she will “ask the state of Ohio to reconsider [this legislation].” She said that she hopes to have the support of her fellow city council members in engaging the legislature.

City administrators in Dayton, Cincinnati and Toledo have already made known their opposition to the bill. Mills said that although she has not personally spoken to any members of any other city government who oppose the legislation, it’s good to know that her peers are on her side.

“I know I’m not alone in this, and that’s what’s important. Educated members of municipal governments are aware of the damage this could do,” Mills said.

She said that she has done her share of research on the Second Amendment in forming her opinion: “I respect it, but we must have sensible limitations.”

On the contrary, Irvine believes that H.B. 203 really won’t have any effect on the current standard of self-defense in Ohio. He said that in order to jeopardize someone else’s life, a person must have three things: a weapon or the ability to kill, proximity to the other person, and intent to kill. According to Irvine, these would still apply if H.B. 203 passes.

“At the end of the day, it’s a very small change to the law…the prosecutor can still argue that you didn’t have to kill anyone,” Irvine said.

He added that if someone were to kill an aggressor in a life-or-death situation, that person would still have the burden of proof, just like in any other murder case.

The Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee in the Ohio House is currently considering the bill. Until further action is taken, it will certainly continue to be the subject of much debate.


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