Ohio House Approves 'Stand Your Ground' Bill

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The bill would eliminate the so-called “duty to retreat” requirement, which says a person who feels threatened must attempt to escape before using deadly force. And it expands the situations in which weapons can be used beyond homes and cars as in the current law, to any places where that person is allowed to be, such as streets and stores.

Its sponsor is Republican State Rep. Terry Johnson, who took issue with the way some Democrats have characterized the bill.

“There’s no kill-at-will here," Johnson said. "This is not an expansion of castle doctrine.”

Johnson said the Ohio bill would be different than the one in Florida, which has been singled out by critics after the trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.

But critics weren’t buying that. State Rep. Fred Strahorn is a Democrat from Dayton.

“This passes – because we do this sometimes, we forget that our actions have weight – there will be consequences," Strahord said. "You pass this, somebody’s going to die because of this. Absolutely. It’s already happened. George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin are not an isolated case.”

Democrat State Rep. Alicia Reece from Cincinnati said she supports the right to bear arms, but also said she was representing 10,000 people who signed a petition to stop the bill.

“We know what the provision in House Bill 203 – the 'stand your ground, kill-at-will' provision, we’ve already seen what it does when it goes wrong," Reece said. "We’ve already seen when we allow citizens to become judge, juror and executioner.”

But sponsor Terry Johnson said existing Ohio law prevents such a scenario.

“Those who say that this change will encourage people to take up vigilantism are flat-out wrong," Johnson said. "Despite this change, Ohio will still be one of the hardest states in the union to prove self-defense in a court of law. That’s because our burden of proof for demonstrating self-defense is so much higher than in most states.”

However, Democrats were still unconvinced. State Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown said he had voted for the creation of concealed-carry in Ohio, but said this bill will bring needless violence.

“Come to Youngstown and Cleveland and Cincinnati," Hagan said. "Come out of the suburbs, folks, and see what the heck is going on. And you will see exactly what is going on -- the fear that we have in passing legislation that does absolutely nothing but get the people that supported this so excited for you, like the NRA.”

But Republican State Rep. Matt Lynch said the Democrats were using what he called “scaremongering and radical accusations” in describing the bill, which he said includes mostly commonsense reforms along with a needed change in the duty to retreat provision.

“Can you imagine, Mr. Speaker, if anyone ever proposed that in order to exercise your First Amendment rights, or that you need training, or that somehow the government would have to approve of what you’re going to do in advance?" Lynch said. "We’d never stand for that. We’d never stand for that when it comes to our right to worship, either. Ah, but when it comes to gun rights, somehow it’s okay.”

The debate was interrupted at one point by protesters who oppose the bill, as captured by reporter Mark Kovac for his Ohio Capital Blog site.

“O-H-I-O! Stand Your Ground has got to go!” protesters chanted.

They unfurled a banner that read “Vote No on Stand Your Ground," which was pulled up quickly in accordance with House rules. The proceedings resumed a few moments later after the demonstrators were led from the balcony out of the chamber. In the end, the bill passed overwhelmingly, with six Democrats joining all the Republicans in voting for it. It now moves on to the Ohio Senate.

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