The protracted hype over the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Fla., last year has made the Sunshine State’s Stand Your Ground statute on self-defense a trendy cause celebre among segments of the American gun-rights and conservative political communities.
It is not surprising then that more than a dozen Ohio Republican state legislators have signed on to support a bill introduced this summer that would add the Buckeye State to the list of about 20 others that have legalized a looser standard for use of deadly force.
This is one bandwagon, however, onto which Ohio should not rush to jump. Although the Florida jury in the sensationalized Martin case effectively validated the law with its not-guilty verdict for triggerman George Zimmerman, the national jury is still out on the question of whether the statute wields fairness, justice and efficacy in the war on crime in America. Therefore state legislators should proceed slowly, cautiously and thoughtfully before planting Stand Your Ground on Ohio’s turf.
First, prior to the national fascination over the Martin case, nary a word was uttered about the issue. That’s because Ohio already has sufficient statutes governing use of lethal force when residents are confronted with potentially life-threatening danger.
That truism was vividly demonstrated in the Mahoning Valley just last week when Trumbull County prosecutors chose not to charge Roy Hahn of Niles who shot and killed one of several intruders breaking into his home last month. Hahn found protection in the state’s 5-year-old Castle Doctrine, a self-defense law based on the age-old premise that a person’s home is his or her castle. It allows for individuals to use deadly force inside their homes or vehicles when they fear for their lives at the hands of an intruder.
In addition, some criminologists see more harm than good in Stand Your Ground laws. Since the Florida law was enacted, justifiable homicides in Florida have risen more than 400 percent to a record 66 in 2012, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
LAW CANNOT BE LICENSE TO KILL
What’s more, there is a significant difference between killing in clear self-defense in one’s home and killing in perceived self-defense on public property. Stand Your Ground should not stand for a license to kill.
In general terms, loosening the statute, as House Bill 203 sponsored by Scioto County Republican Terry Johnson proposes, would remove the duty to retreat in the face of a threatening encounter. In countless cases, however, a victim’s decision to retreat has saved lives. In debating the bill in the General Assembly, the burden of proof will be on its supporters to demonstrate that Stand Your Ground represents a legitimate extension of the right of Ohioans to protect themselves from imminent danger. We respectfully await those arguments.
As debate begins in the House Policy and Oversight Committee, we hope legislators consider all possible angles and all credible viewpoints, including those of two top U.S. leaders.
Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Martin shooting demonstrates a need to re-examine stand-your-ground laws nationwide. At this summer’s NAACP convention in Miami, he said they “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense” and increase the possibility of deadly confrontations.
President Barack Obama has questioned whether a law could really promote peace and security if it sent a message that someone who is armed “has the right to use those firearms even if there is a way for them to exit from a situation.”
Such sentiments provide a compelling case for lawmakers to move slowly. Although Stand Your Ground today is a criminal-justice hot topic, its capricious enactment could well result in a statewide fashion faux pax of deadly proportions.