In the few weeks remaining in the legislative session, lawmakers may send Gov. John Kasich a bill eliminating the legal duty of Ohioans to retreat from danger before using deadly force to protect themselves.
“A person facing a life-threatening situation should not have a duty to flee and hope for the best,” Rep. Terry Johnson (R., McDermott) told the Senate Civil Justice Committee weighing his bill containing numerous changes to Ohio gun laws.
“They should have the right to protect themselves and protect their loved ones.”
House Bill 203 passed the House nearly a year ago by a bipartisan vote of 63-27. It has drawn comparisons with Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.
Florida’s law was tried in the court of public opinion but not in the actual courtroom when George Zimmerman was accused but acquitted in the 2012 shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.
But Dr. Johnson noted that Ohioans in such situations would still have to show they acted in self-defense and did nothing to escalate the danger. Under Florida’s law, the prosecutor bears the burden of proving the shooter did not act in self-defense.
“Ohio is one of the toughest states in the union to prove self-defense,” Dr. Johnson said. “In other states you don’t have nearly that barrier to get across.”
The provision is essentially an extension of Ohio’s “Castle Doctrine” law, which states that residents do not have a duty to retreat when they believe they are endangered in their homes or cars. House Bill 203 extends that to anywhere a legal gun owner has a right to be.
“It is a continual effort to try to take away regulations on carrying weapons,” said Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. “With ‘Stand Your Ground,’ we’re already covered in this state with self-defense.
“This is just telling people to go and act as law enforcement if they feel threatened, but how can we judge how you or I would feel threatened?” she asked. “We don’t have people locked up in jail because they defended themselves.”
Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina) said he expects the bill to reach the Senate floor, but no decision has been made yet specifically on the self-defense provisions.
“There are substantial portions of that bill that aren’t controversial, so you can anticipate all of those,” he said. “Whether we go on some of the other provisions hasn’t yet been decided.”
The bill also decreases the number of hours of training required for an Ohioan to get a license from 12 to four, adds a national database background check for licenses, and allows Ohioans to buy a rifle or shotgun from any state as opposed to current law restricting those purchases to Ohio or a neighboring state.
It would require Ohio to recognize concealed carry licenses issued by other states as long as the other states recognize Ohio’s.
Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) questioned whether Ohio residents should be required to get licenses here.
“What’s to prevent Ohio residents … from running to some other state that have zero training requirement, getting their [concealed carry license] from Indiana, for example … and then effectively bypassing the Ohio statutes?” he asked.