COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House moved legislation Nov. 20 that provides some legal protection for residents defending themselves during violent attacks -- over objections from black lawmakers and others concerned about the state adopting its own version of controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws.
House Bill 203 passed on a vote of 62-27 and heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.
Proponents said the changes are needed to fix issues in Ohio's concealed carry laws and to protect the people of the state.
Rep. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) said the bill "affirms our national right to self defense. This provision benefits the victims of violent crime. No matter who you are, no matter what your race, no matter what your religion, if you're an Ohio citizen, you will benefit."
He added, "A person facing a life-threatening situation should not have a duty to flee and hope for the best. They should have the right to protect themselves and protect their loved ones."
But opponents said the legislation would lead to more gun violence and, potentially, more incidents like the Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman.
"You pass this, somebody's going to die because of this," said Rep. Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton).
Among other provisions, HB 203 would reduce safety training hours to four from 12 for concealed carry applicants, allow men and women serving in the military to retain their concealed carry licenses and accommodate out-of-state firearms purchases.
The bill also would require Ohio to recognize concealed handgun licenses issued by states that recognize Ohio's license holders.
But much attention and public criticism of the bill has focused language that would expand the circumstances in which individuals have "no duty to retreat," so long as they are facing physical threats in places where they "lawfully" have a right to be.
Proponents say the language is not the same as the Florida law that prompted a national debate on gun laws. And under HB 203, Ohioans would still have to prove they acted in self defense.
Backers also chastised media accounts describing the bill using the phrase "Stand Your Ground."
"We're talking about elimination of the duty to retreat," Johnson said. "There is no 'Stand Your Ground' in Ohio revised Code."
"'Stand Your Ground' is a marketing label, it's a media label, it has no independent meaning," Ken Hanson, legislative chairman for the Buckeye Firearms Association, told reporters the day before the House vote on the bill. "Ohio is the only state a person acting in self defense [has] to prove they were acting in self defense. Every other state, it's up to the prosecution to prove they weren't acting in self defense. So trying to compare what Ohio is proposing to do to what other states have done, it's not a valid comparison."
But Democrats said the legislation is a "Stand Your Ground" bill and would allow Ohioans to use lethal force to defend themselves.
Minority party members attempted a number of amendments, including one to remove the " Stand Your Ground" language.
"Ohio already has strong self-defense laws on the books that allow Ohioans to defend themselves...," said Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati), who heads the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus. "But we cannot, should not and will not accept a law that allows for someone to follow someone who has done nothing -- something like eating Skittles and drinking some iced tea -- to follow them and hunt them down and then hide behind the law...."
Reece said the provisions would be better titled "Kill at Will."
"I believe in the right to bear arms," she said. "I believe in the Second Amendment. But I also believe a citizen has a right to walk on the sidewalk, wear what they want to wear, look how they want to look. They have rights, too. They also have a right in this country not to be followed and gunned down."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.