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Stand Your Ground Stirs Controversy in Ohio

After failed attempts in 2013, Ohio legislators are once again trying to pass Stand Your Ground gun legislation. (Pixabay)
After failed attempts in 2013, Ohio legislators are once again trying to pass Stand Your Ground gun legislation. (Pixabay)
October 9, 2017

By Andrew Keiper
Kent State-Ohio News Connection

Ohio lawmakers are attempting to expand the protections for people who use deadly force to defend themselves, a move that’s stirring controversy across the state.

A pair of companion bills, colloquially known as a Stand Your Ground law, would shift the burden of proof from the defendant to the state in cases where deadly force is used in self defense. Similar legislation was unsuccessfully proposed in 2013.

Sen. Joe Uecker, R-Miami Township, joined with Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, to introduce Senate Bill 180 in mid-September. The legislation contains four major changes to Ohio law, the largest of which is the shift in the burden of proof from the person who used deadly force to the state.

If passed, prosecutors will be tasked with providing evidence contrary to the defendant’s claim of self-defense.

Uecker acknowledged that the massacre in Las Vegas during the Route 91 country music festival may sway the political energy behind his bill.

“The events of yesterday will certainly play in the public arena,” the senator said. “I think it could influence one way or the other. It’s a sensitive time.”

Although the largest mass killing in modern U.S. history has thrown the country into mourning, Uecker said he’s talked with lawmakers and constituents who voiced support for the controversial measure.

“It corrects this problem in our law, and that’s probably the most important thing,” said Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association. “It’s a good bill, it’s good public policy, and it fixes multiple problems with Ohio law.”

The legislation also removes the duty for one to retreat before resorting to deadly force, a cause for alarm among some gun control advocates.

“It’s a stand your ground or shoot first kind of law,” Jennifer Thorne, board member of Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said. “That means that if you feel threatened, then you don’t have the duty to retreat or try something else before using a firearm.”

Other measures included in the legislation is the removal of the requirement for some entities to post signs banning weapons from their property. The last change modifies the obligation that concealed carry permit holders keep their hands in plain sight when pulled over by an officer.

“That’s obviously an officer safety issue that we’re concerned with,” Michael Weinman, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, said. “… With bills like this, the devil is in the details.”

Weinman said he wasn’t surprised to see stand your ground legislation being considered in the Statehouse again. His organization and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association oppose the current stand your ground bills, just as they did in 2013.

“I don’t see us coming out in support,” Weinman said. “I mean, we could get to a place where we would be neutral.”

Ohio’s political landscape has changed since similar legislation was proposed in 2013, which gives Uecker hope the legislation will be successful this time around. Following 2016 elections, Republicans controlled the governorship, House and Senate in the state.

“What good is it to make a firearm illegal if the bad guys don’t abide by the law,” Uecker implored. “If I didn’t expect it to pass, I would never have introduced it.”

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH