Stand-Your-Ground gun bill makes comeback at Columbus Statehouse

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Stand-your-ground legislation is making a comeback at the Statehouse.

The proposal would allow gun owners to use deadly force against would-be assailants in self-defense and eliminate the duty under current law to retreat before using force. “We want to eliminate your duty to retreat when you are under threat of violent attack,” said Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 180, which was introduced Tuesday. “It’s difficult to defend yourself when you are running away or your back is turned.” Pending companion House and Senate bills also would expand the so-called Castle Doctrine, which allows people to act in self-defense, without retreating, when in their homes, cars or relatives’ cars. Under the new legislation, that would be changed to allow people to act in self-defense without retreating when also anywhere a person has a legal right to be, such as on a sidewalk or in a parking lot.

The bills also would shift the burden to prosecutors in self-defense cases to prove that criminal defendants did not act to defend themselves, others or their homes. Hottinger said Ohio is the only state in which people must prove they acted in self-defense in using deadly force. The Republican-controlled House passed a wide-ranging, pro-gun bill in late 2013 that included stand-your-ground language, but the Senate removed the provision amid objections from prosecutors and police. The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio have not changed their positions.

“We think a person who has a safe way of avoiding a confrontation should take advantage of that rather than just stand there and blast away,” said John Murphy, executive director of the prosecutors group. Murphy also said it is reasonable to require a defendant to prove a self-defense claim by a preponderance of evidence — a lesser standard than beyond reasonable doubt. Current laws have worked well with no evidence that prosecutors are improperly pursuing charges against people who properly act in self-defense. Michael Weinman, governmental affairs director for the FOP, said the organization continues to oppose stand-your-ground legislation.

“Even officers have a duty to de-escalate the situation before it gets to the point of using deadly force,” he said. Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said that group supports the proposed changes. “If someone is attacking you and you are forced to defend your life, you are better off to stand your ground or advance on the other person than you are to retreat,” he said. “We know now that it’s wrong to put burdens on a crime victim. We should be helping the victim and putting the penalties on the criminal. A lot of states did this a decade ago.” The group also believes that the prosecution should bear the responsibility of proving a person did not act in self-defense in using deadly force, Irvine said.

The legislation, which includes House Bill 228 with 36 co-sponsors, also would reduce penalties for concealed-carry offenses to minor misdemeanors, carrying only fines if the offender does not commit another offense while carrying a gun. The House bill also would eliminate the mandatory posting of no-guns-allowed signs at public and private K-12 schools, airports, police stations, courthouses, jails, prisons, child-care centers and other facilities.