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Community leaders in Columbus recently urged state senators and Gov. John Kasich to reject a dangerous, unnecessary bill that would exponentially expand the circumstances in which a person has no duty to retreat before using lethal force. They were joined by Lucia McBath, whose unarmed son Jordan Davis, 17, was shot and killed at a Florida gas station after a dispute over loud music.
House Bill 203, Ohio’s version of “stand your ground” legislation, has cleared the House. Now before the Ohio Senate, this bill should not reach Mr. Kasich’s desk.
The measure would almost surely encourage gun violence — something Ohio and its cities don’t need — and lead to more needless deaths. Nor would the bill strengthen legitimate rights to self-defense.
Ohio law already states that people need not retreat in their residence or vehicle, or the vehicle of an immediate family member. Those provisions are ample, including areas of personal domain to which U.S. legal tradition and the “castle doctrine” have extended special protections. Among other things, the House bill would extend immunities to anywhere a person has a legal right to be — an invitation to violence and vigilantism.
As several high-profile killings have shown, people can feel unduly threatened, even by an unarmed person, and turn what should be a minor confrontation into a needless fatality. Research by Texas A&M University found that stand-your-ground states had 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.
Stand-your-ground laws — sometimes disparagingly called “shoot first,” “kill at will,” or “make my day” — have been hotly debated nationwide, especially since the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Florida. Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted last year, but young Martin’s death was unnecessary.
Ohio lawmakers should not encourage more such tragedies. Existing laws protect the personal space that society generally considers inviolable. Extending those protections to virtually anywhere just invites violence.
Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Mr. Kasich, told The Blade’s editorial page last week that the governor hasn’t taken a position on the bill. It’s too bad that Governor Kasich, who has shown real leadership and courage on many issues, is taking a powder on this one, even though 90 Ohio mayors — members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns — have urged him to oppose the bill.
So have the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and many ordinary citizens who are sick of gun violence and the gun lobby’s power to, in effect, perpetuate it.
They are the voice of reason. State senators and Governor Kasich should stand their ground with them.