Wednesday, Jun 29, 2016
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EDITORIAL

Lethal lessons

A bill that would needlessly extend legal protection for shooters in Ohio is senseless and dangerous

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A Florida jury over the weekend found Michael Dunn, 47, guilty of three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of firing into an occupied car. Dunn faces at least 60 years in prison for fatally shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis outside a convenience store after they argued over loud music.

Dunn, who had a concealed weapons permit, fired 10 shots. Nine hit the vehicle young Davis was in.

The Dunn verdict came six months after George Zimmerman was acquitted of any crime for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. A retired Tampa police captain, Curtis Reeves, 71, is charged with second-degree murder after he shot Chad Oulson, 43, in a Florida theater after an argument over Mr. Oulson’s texting during movie previews.

These shootings have helped spark a nationwide debate on stand-your-ground statutes and gun laws in general. Dunn’s attorney argued that the shooting by his client was a self-defense, not a stand-your-ground, case.

But it would be naive to believe that stand-your-ground laws cannot embolden some people to escalate petty disputes into life-and-death confrontations. It is expected that Mr. Reeves will use Florida’s stand-your-ground law in his defense.

Irrespective of the verdicts, all three of these deaths were pointless and unnecessary. They could have been avoided.

Ohioans should consider how further relaxing gun laws in this state could put everyone at risk. The state Senate should reject a stand-your-ground bill that the House approved last November.

That bill would vastly expand the circumstances in which a person has no duty to retreat before using lethal force in self-defense. It would extend some immunities, without cause and with great risk, to anywhere a person has a legal right to be.

With adequate laws on the books, such a change is unneeded. It would increase the danger of gun violence — something this state and its cities hardly need.

City councils in several Ohio communities, including Toledo, Akron, Dayton, and Cincinnati, formally oppose the bill. So do the Fraternal Order of Police and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police.

A study by Texas A&M University found higher rates of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters in states that have stand-your-ground laws — without decreasing incidents of burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. More than 20 states have some kind of stand-your-ground law.

Ohio’s version could embolden people and encourage violence. It’s not uncommon for people to overreact to potential danger, especially when they must make split-second decisions. The fact that a person feels threatened, even by an unarmed person, should not become, if only in the shooter’s mind, a license to kill.

Current Ohio law states that people need not retreat in their residence, their vehicle, or the vehicle of an immediate family member. That’s reasonable — retreat in those circumstances would be difficult if not impossible — and more than adequate.

Existing law covers areas of personal domain to which American legal tradition and the so-called castle doctrine have extended special protections and immunities. A bill that would needlessly extend legal protection for shooters in Ohio is senseless and dangerous.

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