Buckeye Firearms Assn's Joe Eaton discusses Stand Your Ground laws at Dayton Daily News roundtable as national debate continues
On Sunday, April 29, The Dayton Daily News published an extensive article documenting a roundtable discussion held in response to the massive nationwide media barrage on the Trayvon Martin/ George Zimmerman case in Florida, and on Stand Your Ground laws.
The DDN "assembled representatives of Ohioans for Concealed Carry, the Buckeye Firearms Association, the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence and the law enforcement community for a spirited conversation that began with the Martin-Zimmerman case and went on to other gun-related topics, such as whether Ohio needs its own stand your ground law."
Unfortunately, the paper does not publish articles from its Ideas & Voices section online, but we have archived the highlights here:
Moderator: Gun laws have been debated for a long time, but the Trayvon Martin/ George Zimmerman case has sparked a lot of new conversation about them, including the "stand your ground" law. Do you think the case is relevant to the conversation?
Philip Mulivor [OFCC} - It's very important to understand that the stand your ground law has no relevance in the Zimmerman-Martin case, regardless of the version you believe. Here's why. There are two scenarios. In one, George Zimmerman was the criminal aggressor. If he was, stand your ground automatically does not apply to such situations, and he'll be found criminally liable for his actions and be punished. If you believe the other scenario, where he was knocked to the ground and Martin was looming over him, then Zimmerman had no way to retreat. Either way, the stand your ground law plays no part. Unfortunately, this has been so egregiously misrepresented in news outlets and seized upon disingenuously by factions.
Toby Hoover: [OCAGV] I certainly think anything as informative as this case has been is worth talking about. In this country, we've allowed people to easily buy guns and have allowed them to carry them on the street, and we have kill-on-will laws where, if they feel threatened, they can take action. But we think humans never should be able to make that step just based on how they feel.
Mulivor: No, every stand your ground law in every state that has one says the person must be "under violent attack and have an honest belief that their safety is threatened; to call it "kill on will" based upon a feeling is a misstatement.
Joe Eaton:[BFA] In Ohio, these are simply self-defense measures in which you can use a firearm or any other weapon; the same laws apply, so relating them directly to guns is a big issue. What stand your ground and the "castle doctrine" do is put the burden back on the criminal, instead of the victim, so that if you're attacked, you don't have to defend yourself in court for doing so. The prosecutor still has discretion in the case, but now the victim isn't the one who has to prove they weren't in the wrong.
Richard Jones: [Butler Co. Sheriff] I definitely believe you should be able to defend yourself. In the Florida case, though, I don't know what to believe, because of all the media coverage. The person killed can't talk, the one who's alive has had to go into hiding; I don't know if he can get a fair trial. And I feel there's been an effort by the anti-gun people to take guns away, period.
Moderator: As far as the appropriateness of stand your ground in the Zímmerman case, wasn't he the one who used the law as his defense, and didn't the police chief use it as his reason for not arresting him?
Mulivor - Whoever used it, it's incorrect to apply in this case. Every legal scholar I've read says the same thing.
Hoover: But here's the question. Haven't we taken ordinary citizens and allowed them to own and carry guns and then passed a law that lets them think they have the right to stand their ground?
Eaton: That's false. In Ohio, all the castle doctrine is that if I'm in my home or in my automobile and I'm the victim of an attack, I have the right to defend myself. If I don't meet those requirements, then I'll be arrested, tried and have to defend myself. We think there is a good reason to relieve that burden from the victims of an attack - and in this area, we have two horrible cases you can look at, in Dayton and in Hamilton, and in both cases the person who did the shooting was being attacked in their homes. Now, there's no way I would want to do that, but my job is to make sure my family is as safe and as whole as possible. Should the victim of an attack in their home be arrested, charged, have to hire lawyers and spend their life savings to defend themselves again? Isn't that absurd?
Hoover: I've heard all those arguments before. But for our organization, we believe the first duty in an attack is to retreat. If a life could be taken, retreat should be the consideration. Yesterday, I came out to a parking lot to find my car window broken; if I had happened to be there in the car when it was broken into, would I have had the right to kill that human being?
Eaton: Well, maybe you could've unbuckled your seat belt; gotten out the other door and retreated safely. That's absurd, in my world. lf somebody comes up and busts in my car window while I'm sitting there, am I to assume they're just swatting a bug? You'd have to be in fear for your life, and in that case I will use any means I can to protect myself and my family.
Hoover: Yes, you have to decide very quickly if it's a threat or not, and if you can retreat or not.
Eaton: If I have to use deadly force, that option should be there, because I'm the law-abiding person just sitting in my car, and I have a right to be there.
Moderator: So, does Ohio need a stand your ground law?
Jones: I'm OK with one. You shouldn't have to lose your house and all you've worked for if you defend yourself against a bad person and you feel threatened, and everyone knows you're innocent.
Mulivor: - Yes, Ohio needs a stand your ground law that expands the castle doctrine that merely covers your home or vehicle. The whole stand your ground law - which has been portrayed by extremists as an agenda by the gun lobby - in fact has deep roots in American law with numerous cases stating it's a normative legal principle that is universally applicable. Yes, Ohio needs one and will have one before too long.
Hoover: But there should be some duty to retreat. That is a big thing for us.
Mulivor: In my experience, especially working with concealed-carry students, it's the rare exception where an opportunity to retreat actually exists during a violent assault. And with an older, less-agile person involved, the more this is true. How often is it realistic to think that a chance to retreat will actually apply?
Eaton: I think we need to expand my right to protect my life anywhere I happen to be, not just inside my home or car. If standing outside my car, I should still be permitted to protect myself.
Hoover: I'm surprised you're all so comfortable with so many people with guns on the street.
Jones: Well, all the people in my jail had guns. They break into houses and steal them, so I see no reason why law-abiding citizens can't have guns.
Moderator: Is the public asking for these laws, or is this driven by politicians?
Mulivor: The gun voice in this country is one of the loudest, broadest grassroots efforts in the history of the republic. The public is asking for expanded gun rights, no question.
Eaton: I'm asking for it. If you can tell me a place in Ohio where there's no violent crime, I will happily pack up and move there and live quietly for the rest of my life.
Hoover: Well then, there are a lot of places you can go. The Ohio crime report says 90 percent of firearms crime happens in seven of our 88 counties. So you have 81 counties you can move to. Most of the state is safe, and most of the people in it are safe. Where are people dying so much that you think you need to be armed?
Mulivor: Why do we have fire extinguishers in our kitchens? Do we expect a fire? No, they're rare. But smart people have extinguishers. We do lots of things in life to remain safe - seat belts, bike helmets. Do we drive in fear? No, but we take reasonable precautions. Carrying a firearm falls into the category of simple common sense.
Eaton: At Rep. (Gabrielle) Giffords' public appearance, they all felt safe, too. Generally, in a terrible situation like that, it's another firearm that ends the tragedy.
Moderator: Sheriff, law enforcement normally argues for getting guns off the streets. The laws we're talking about here would put more guns on the streets. Which will make us a safer society?
Jones: Most crimes are committed by people who are in and out of prison, in inner cities, killing each other over drugs. I don't know that we can ever get guns off the street. The people who are law-abiding citizens are not the ones committing the crimes, and I'm OK with citizens carrying guns. Our society was built on the right to own and carry flrearms; it's in our national DNA. And it's not the guns that cause the violence, it's the people.
Moderator: President Obama seems to be seen by many gun proponents as a threat to guns. What's he done that keeps that idea alive?
Eaton: What has he done to overcome the last 15 years in the Illinois legislature and in the Senate, where he's been behind every bill to get at guns? He hasn't changed his core beliefs. And honest people are not the problem when it comes to firearms.
Hoover: So disarming for you is the same as putting regulations on gun ownership? Are you for anyone, anywhere, any gun? Or do you support some regulations?
Eaton: Of course you have to have some regulations. If you're a proven criminal, or mentally ill, you shouldn't be allowed to have a tool to commit violence.
Hoover: Should there be any regulation of gun shows, or private sales?
Eaton: They're legal, and I don't think people who are engaging in a legal activity ought to be put on the defensive.
Moderator: It seems both sides want to keep guns out of the hands of bad people...
Hoover: I don't get your who's-a-good-guy/ who's-a-bad-guy point.
Moderator: You're saying you can't tell who the good guys and bad guys are, so in your mind he may not be such a good guy - but we hear Sheriff Jones saying we really do know who the bad guys are. Back to the Martin case, do you feel like there are more George Zimmermans out there waiting in the weeds? Do you think people have the right to defend themselves?
Hoover: I think it's human nature to defend yourself, of course. If the law says you have the right to have a gun in your home, I don't think that makes it right to say you can carry a gun anywhere, anytime. Two percent of people in Ohio say they think they want to carry a gun anywhere they go, so I don't think there's any big group of people saying, "Gee, I need to be armed." My guess is a lot of people would rather not have a lot of extra guns out there in the community. And we're forgetting domestic violence within families. Who says that because you're law-abiding, you're going to stay that way?
Eaton: Well, you said it's human nature for us to protect ourselves. So why would you limit the tools at my family's disposal to do that, anywhere they are? Is it OK for them to use a knife or a bat to defend themselves?
Hoover: Everyone has the right to protect themselves.
Eaton: So why limit our tools?
Hoover: A gun isn't like a bat or a knife; it's something people use to kill with.
Eaton: Why limit my wife to a knife to protect herself when she can have a better tool?
Hoover: Do you really expect people to break into your house?
Eaton: Not necessarily, but if it does happen, I have a duty to make sure my family is protected. Like the sheriff said, the firearms are out there already, and every day 200 get their concealed carry licenses in Ohio. That means criminals are worried now who might defend themselves. The honest, law-abiding people of Ohio are making others automatically safer, because the criminals no longer know who can fight back.
Hoover: Then why is crime up?
Jones: It's actually down, all over the United States.
Moderator: Are you gentlemen suggesting that people carrying guns is why?
Mulivor: It's difficult to prove cause and effect, but in states with stand your ground laws, murder rates are down 9 percent, and overall violent crime is down 11 percent.
Moderator: We recently read a commentator who suggested that since the Democrats aren't putting up much serious struggle on gun laws, the NRA has effectively "won" this debate. Thoughts on that?
Mulivor: No, I don't think that's true. But I think the discussion on the right to bear arms is the most important conversation in this country right now. Why? Because our personal security and safety depend on it, and the whole school of thought on the future of liberty depends on it. So it continues to be a critical conversation. There have been improvements to gun rights in the last 15 to 17 years, and I think the trend is to continue to expand gun rights so that local laws more accurately reflect the Second Amendment. But whoever declares that anybody has won anything is preposterous.
Eaton: Common sense is what is winning. People realize that firearms in the hands of honest, law-abiding citizens are not a problem. People point at the NRA as the bogeyman, but they represent hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy their sport and their rights, and who are not the problem Sheriff Jones deals with every day.
Moderator: Final thoughts?
Hoover: I think all families have the right to be free of gun violence, and all children have the right to be able to walk around and not worry about people carrying guns.
Jones: What bothers me is that we've been talking about violence and weapons, but there is something more here. I've seen a segment of our society destroy itself and drugs have done it. The drugs, the violence, the guns - it's not the guns, it's the gun owners and the drugs. What are we doing about it? Absolutely nothing. A group of citizens walks in protest, and in the government, nothing happens. The majority of crime in inner cities is black on black, and it's as though we just can't do anything about it; law enforcement is simply reactive. I don't know the fix for it. You can't take the guns away. Seventy-five percent of the illegal drugs in the world come to the U.S., and kids can't help where they're born. There are kids being killed every day in inner cities. We're losing several generations of kids, and it's a sad, terrible tragedy. There should be a national roundtable on that. It's a screwed-up mess.