Senate committee passes “stand your ground” bill as lame duck deadline approaches

By: - December 11, 2020 12:50 am

A man is seen with a holstered pistol at a demonstration outside the State Capitol after networks called the presidential election for Joe Biden. Photo by Jake Zuckerman.

Republicans voted Wednesday night to send a bill to the Ohio Senate floor that would expand the right to shoot to kill in perceived self-defense in Ohio.

Senate Bill 383 passed on a party line vote just around 8:15 p.m. It says a person has no “duty to retreat” before using lethal force if he or she “reasonably believed” the force was necessary to prevent death or injury.

By current law, Ohioans have no duty to retreat to perceived threats in their home or vehicle. SB 383 expands this to any place a person is lawfully present.

Under the bill, often referred to as “stand your ground,” Ohioans who can evade a threatening situation no longer need to do so before choosing to shoot in self-defense.

If a person shoots someone and claims self-defense, SB 383 says a court cannot consider the possibility of retreat in determining whether that person used force in self-defense.

After fielding opposition testimony from anti-gun violence activists, a college professor, and the son of one of the nine dead victim of the 2019 Dayton shooting, Republicans voted to pass the bill with little fanfare.

Democrats tried to load the bill with amendments anti-gun violence activists have sought for years including closing the “gun show loophole” that allows private firearm sales without background checks at gun shows, raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21, and others.

All the amendments were voted down along party lines.

“Ohio doesn’t need this,” said Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toldeo, shortly before the vote. “It’s not necessary, especially after the Dayton shooting. People chanted, ‘Do more. Do something.’ This isn’t the something they’re talking about.”

Sen. Cecil Thomas said the legislation will create a “shoot-first” mentality.

“This will inevitably lead to more deadly confrontations and deaths,” he said.

The bill would need to pass both the Senate and House (which is considering similar legislation) before heading to Gov. Mike DeWine for a signature or veto.

The legislative session ends at midnight Dec. 31, so any bill would need to complete the legislative process by then or begin anew.

Lobbying groups representing gun owners support the proposal. Dean Rieck, executive director of Buckeye Firearms Association, called the duty to retreat an “outrageous” legal requirement.

“If you honestly believe you are about to die, it is cruel and absurd to expect you to attempt escape, delaying your own self-defense and putting your life in even greater danger,” he said.

National Rifle Association lobbyist John Weber said requiring a victim to retreat creates a risk of miscalculation that could increase the risk of danger to the victim.

On the other hand, Bruce Pijanowski with the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police called it “incomprehensible” that lawmakers would allow citizens to engage in shootouts when they have the option to de-escalate the situation.

Similarly, Lou Tobin, representing the state’s prosecuting attorneys, said duty to retreat laws prevent “needless confrontations” — the law protects shootings in self-defense if there was no ability to retreat. He characterized it as a solution seeking a problem.

“It rests on the idea that prosecutors are seeking and obtaining convictions in situations where the use of force was justified. It rests on the idea that they are prosecuting the victim of crime,” he said. “Neither of these things are accurate.”

At least 25 states do not require retreat before shooting in self-defense, according to a May research brief from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 2018, the Ohio House and Senate voted to override Gov. John Kasich on a similar issue, amending the law to place the burden of disproving a self-defense claim on the prosecution.

The Brady Center for Gun Violence, responding to the legislation, cited a study published by the Journal of Human Resources from the University of Wisconsin. It found about 30 Americas are killed each month as a result of stand your ground, and that they are also associated with an increase in hospitalizations and gun-related injuries.

After the Dayton shooting, which killed nine and injured 27, Gov. Mike DeWine put his political muscle behind an anti-gun violence package that contains a spread of provisions designed to keep guns away from convicted felons and toughen penalties if they obtain them.

It would also expand a current legal mechanism that would allow a judge, upon request, to issue a “safety protection order” to a person with a drug, alcohol or other mental health problem. The order would allow law enforcement to temporarily seize this person’s firearms.

The legislation hasn’t received a legislative session in more than a year, and its lead sponsor said in an interview this month that passage is unlikely.



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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.