License to kill

A proposed ‘stand your ground’ law in Ohio is an invitation to violence and vigilantism

Trayvon Martin.
Trayvon Martin.

Some Ohio lawmakers want to modify the state’s concealed-weapons law by vastly expanding the circumstances in which a person has no duty to retreat before using lethal force in self-defense. Such a “stand your ground” law is unnecessary. Worse, 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 proposed bill. Members of the Ohio Student Association also have protested it.

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Current Ohio law states that people need not retreat in their residence, their vehicle, or the vehicle of an immediate family member. That’s more than adequate, covering areas of personal domain to which American legal tradition and the “castle doctrine” traditionally have extended special protections and immunities.

The proposed House bill would, among other changes, extend those immunities to anywhere a person has a legal right to be — a virtual invitation to violence and vigilantism. The fact that a person feels threatened, even by an unarmed person, should not become a license to kill, or a legal justification for shooting another person, anytime and anyplace.

Stand-your-ground laws — sometimes disparagingly called “shoot first,” “kill at will,” or “make my day” — have been hotly debated across the country, especially since the fatal shooing of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. He was acquitted in July, probably in part because of Florida’s stand-your-ground laws.

Irrespective of the verdict’s merits, Trayvon Martin’s death was needless and senseless. Potentially providing legal protection for more such tragedies is no recipe for curbing gun violence, alleviating racial profiling, promoting respect for the law, or creating a more civil society.

More than 20 states now have stand-your-ground laws. 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.

Critics of the proposed Ohio bill say it would turn our state into the “wild West.” That is probably a gross exaggeration, without evidence to support it.

Still, current laws are adequate and already provide special protection of personal space that society generally considers inviolable. Extending that protection to virtually anywhere would only promote more violence. Public safety in Ohio would be best served by the defeat of the “stand your ground” bill.