Don’t loosen duty-to-retreat standards in Ohio statutes

Like so many other hot-button issues that wind their way into the august halls of state legislatures, the debate over whether Ohio should enact a so-called “Stand Your Ground Law” runs amok in hyperbole and heated passion. Opponents of the bill, approved last week by the Ohio House of Representatives, nickname the legislation the “shoot first,” “kill at will,” or “make my day” law. Supporters equate the measure with such glittering generalities as “pro-rights” and “We the People.”

Such misguided Dirty Harry and Uncle Sam analogies trigger hotly emotional but misguided crusades on both sides of the issue. When stripping the debate of such fiery and indignant rhetoric and when analyzing House Bill 203, sponsored by Scioto County Republican Terry Johnson, on its full scope, rational thinkers will uncover several positive provisions. They’ll also, however, see little need for its most controversial aspect — greatly expanding the circumstances under which a person has no duty to retreat before using lethal force.

Given the enduring clamor over the killing of Trayvon Martin last year, it is understandable that many critics point squarely to the provision in Johnson’s bill that loosens the standards under which Ohioans with concealed-carry licenses can use deadly force. In doing so, however, they ignore provisions that actually work to strengthen controls over firearms use in the Buckeye State.

For example, HB 203 makes the background check procedure in the state more thorough. The bill brings Ohio into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a key element of the federal Brady Handgun Control Act. According to Johnson, it also will prevent those Ohioans convicted of domestic violence from obtaining a concealed-carry permit.

Those provisions pack strong logic in advancing public safety. Unfortunately, its provisions loosening the duty to retreat fly in the face of the reasonable objections of credible authorities.

The Fraternal Order of Police and other state law-enforcement and prosecutor groups oppose the so-called stand-your-ground provision. Mike Weinman of the Ohio FOP testified that such statutes increase the potential for violence.

Authoritative data reinforce that assertion. A recent Texas A&M study found that those states with loose duty-to-retreat statutes show a “statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters,” without decreasing cases of burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault.

Justifiable homicides

For example, since the Florida law was enacted, justifiable homicides there have risen more than 400 percent, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Ohio need not invite a similar escalation in wanton violence and bloodshed.

In addition to the duty-to-retreat provisions, law enforcers also oppose provisions in Johnson’s bill that would cut from 12 hours to four the amount of training time needed to obtain a license and another that would grant nearly automatic licenses to those holding permits in other states where licensing requirements are far less strict. At a time when the state is recording record increases in the number of concealed-carry licenses sought, such weakening of existing provisions is ill advised.

As Johnson’s bill heads to the Ohio Senate, majority Republicans and minority Democrats must work to restore the lost art of legislative compromise. Strip the debate of its emotional exaggerations, fear-mongering and focus on the bill’s merits and flaws. They can preserve the bill’s merits and remove its flaws, most notably its overly liberal interpretation of duty to retreat. In so doing, public safety in Ohio will be better served and Second Amendment rights of state residents will be well protected.

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