The Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives has approved a bill that would modify the state’s concealed-weapons law to expand greatly the circumstances in which Ohioans can shoot to kill. The Senate should reject this unnecessary and risky measure, which would make Ohio the 23rd state with so-called stand-your-ground gun laws.
Opponents, some of whom protested during the House session last week when the measure was passed, call the legislation the “kill-at-will bill” and the “George Zimmerman bill,” after the Florida man who shot and killed an unarmed teenager but was acquitted in July.
On both sides of this issue, the rhetoric has become heated and hyperbolic. This is not a kill-at-will bill, but the measure would invite more gun violence and potentially embolden people to use it — something this state and its communities do not need.
Ohio laws already give wide latitude to people who use lethal force to protect themselves, stating that they need not retreat in their homes or cars. These spots are, arguably, areas of personal domain to which American legal tradition and the “castle doctrine” have extended special protections and immunities.
But the House bill would extend certain immunities, without cause and with great risk, to anywhere a person has a legal right to be. That would give a virtual green light to violence and vigilantism.
It’s not uncommon for people to overreact to potential danger, especially when they must make split-second decisions. People who happen to feel threatened, even by an unarmed person, should not feel as though they have a license to kill.
City councils in several Ohio communities, including Toledo, Akron, Dayton, and Cincinnati, oppose the House bill. So do the Fraternal Order of Police and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police. Members of the Ohio Student Association also have protested it.
The record of states with stand-your-ground laws — sometimes called “shoot first” or “make my day” measures — justifies some fears. A recent Texas A&M study found that these states showed a “statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters,” without decreasing incidents of burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault.
Gun control has preoccupied and divided the nation since the slaughter of 26 people, including 20 children, in Newtown, Conn., in December. The senseless death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was another tipping point in the national debate on guns and gun control, especially stand-your-ground laws.
Yet despite the desire of most Americans — and Ohioans — for reasonable restrictions on gun use, a fervid minority keeps pushing for even greater latitude in the use of deadly force. Ohio’s people, and their elected officials, must decide what kind of community and state they want to live in.
Ohio laws that justify the use of lethal force for self-protection are more than adequate. The stand-your-ground bill is unnecessary and unsafe. Kill it.