Supporters of ‘Duty to Retreat Act’ testify before Senate committee

Ohio Senate Chambers
The Ohio Senate Chambers. File Photo

A committee of state senators took another look Tuesday at a proposed change to the self-defense law that would eliminate the legal requirement for a person to try to escape an aggressor before fighting back with deadly force.

Senator Terry Johnson profile
Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, is the primary sponsor of SB 237. Photo from the Ohio Legislature website.

Members of Ohioans for Concealed Carry and Ohio Gun Owners testified in support of Senate Bill 237, also called the “Duty to Retreat Act,” which was in its second hearing before the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee. 

The bill seeks to broaden current Castle Doctrine, which allows a person to use force to defend their property (home or vehicle) if threatened by someone not legally allowed to be there.

Tom Plummer, of Columbus, spoke on behalf of Ohioans for Concealed Carry, saying the “duty to retreat” doesn’t eliminate the “duty of avoidance.”

“But if an innocent person is suddenly confronted with a deadly criminal threat, up close and personal, that person should be free to do what a reasonable person would do: use force, including deadly force if need be, without delaying a response to weigh the odds of a successful retreat.” Several constituents also spoke in support of the amendment, including Tyler Smith, a Marine Corps. veteran who is a concealed carry trainer in Ohio.

“Criminals have the advantage; they don’t have a duty to retreat,” Smith told the committee.

State Sens. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, and Theresa Fedor, D-Toledo, were the most vocal committee members during the hearing, asking most speakers what kind of training they felt citizens would need to be able to act in threatening situations in the same way that law enforcement and gun rights groups train to do.

“We’re talking about passing a bill where every citizen will have to be able to have the kind of thought process that you just articulated when it comes to scenarios,” Thomas told supporters of the bill.

Opponents of the bill have not yet given written or verbal testimony, but a group wearing red Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense t-shirts attended the meeting. They did not speak during the hearing. Moms Demand Action advocates for policy to reduce gun violence.

David Weber, the Ohio State Director of the National Rifle Association, submitted written testimony saying the bill needs the “immediate support” of the committee.

“The bill speaks for itself,” Weber wrote. “Law-abiding citizens should not be victimized by the state for failing to flee from a place they have a right to be, in the face of an unlawful attack by a robber or intruder.”

Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, is the primary sponsor of the bill, and testified in a November hearing before the committee, arguing Ohio has a “duty to defend the United States Constitution, and the people who are using their Second Amendment rights.”

Johnson said that those who improperly use deadly force in an altercation would still be held accountable.

“A person who initiates or escalates the conflict to the point of deadly force is not acting in self-defense,” Johnson said at the November hearing. “They are a criminal, and the justice system exists to ensure they are dealt with appropriately.”

SB 237 has the support of Senate President Larry Obhof, who is a co-sponsor. Other sponsors include Andrew O. Brenner, R-Powell; Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction; Rob McColley, R-Napoleon; Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson; Michael Rulli, R-Salem; and Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster.

The second hearing on SB 237 was held immediately after a third hearing on proposals by Gov. Mike DeWine with regard to firearm background checks and withholding guns from addicts and those dealing with mental health issues.