Want the facts concerning the proposed change to Ohio's ‘duty to retreat'? Don't look to the media or opponents of HB 203.

by Chad D. Baus

In the lead-up to the return of the Ohio General Assembly from their summer break and the opening of hearings on several pro-gun rights bills, certain individuals and groups, along with their media accomplices, have ramped up their efforts to paint one particular provision in Rep. Terry Johnson's House Bill 203 as a "Stand Your Ground" bill. These groups, which have always opposed Second Amendment rights, think they might have finally stumbled on a way to stop what has for them become loss after loss after loss as Ohio has slowly worked to restore gun rights over the past decade.

Despite their loss in a Florida court room, these groups believe they may have achieved one victory in the Zimmerman-Martin media saga: re-branding so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws as racist. It is now apparent that these groups are seeking to export this tactic to other states, including Ohio.

HB 203 seeks to make many improvements, but the one change that has these anti-gun rights advocates the most incensed is the removal of the legal "duty to retreat" before using lethal force to defend against a life-threatening attack. According to the individuals getting so much attention recently in the Ohio media, the following legislative change would make Ohio into a racist "shoot first" state:

Sec. 2901.09 (B) For purposes of any section of the Revised Code that sets forth a criminal offense, a person who lawfully is in that person's residence has no duty to retreat before using force in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of that person's residence, and a person who lawfully is an occupant of that person's vehicle or who lawfully is an occupant in a vehicle owned by an immediate family member of the person has no duty to retreat before using force in self-defense or defense of another if that person is in a place that the person lawfully has a right to be.

Even with this change, a person claiming self-defense must still be able to prove both that he or she was not at fault in creating the situation, that they had reasonable grounds to believe (objective facts) and an honest belief (a subjective belief that the objective facts amounted to) an imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death, and that the only way to escape this imminent danger was using lethal/deadly force. Period.

Pretty obvious why the media have not and will not publish these facts, isn't it?

This simple little paragraph what these anti-gun rights extremists are erroneously calling a "Shoot First", "License to Kill," "Stand Your Ground" provision. That's it. That's all. Easy to publish in articles to put some perspective on the claims like the following:

  • "This is a human interest of folks who are very much afraid of this type of law taking place and what does it mean to their young person. Will they wear the right clothes, is that against the law? Will they walk on the wrong street and get killed, or is that against the law? And so people are really afraid that this will turn into a Wild Wild West type of environment in the state of Ohio." - Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Alicia Reece (D - Cincinnati)
  • [This is] "a dangerous bill. It is an absurd bill. It is a bill built on madness." - Pastor Bruce Butcher, Akron, African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • "The bill would mean if you feel threatened in a neighborhood, you can defend yourself. It's a lot of major problems that have traveled from Florida, Virginia and now Ohio." - Rep. Michael Ashford (D - Toledo)
  • "If I feel threatened by you on the side walk and I shoot you or what have you, you can't speak because you're no longer among the living." - Talmadge Thomas, Toledo, Senior Pastor Mt. Zion Church
  • "If you start a fight with someone and then you start getting your behind kicked, that you can take out a gun and shoot the person you started a fight with and call it self defense." - David B. Miller, South Euclid City Council President
  • "It's a piece of dangerous legislation. We really don't need [what happened in Florida with the Trayvon Martin case] in the state of Ohio." - Linda Omobien, Akron City Councilwoman
  • "There will be no benefit in letting people think they have 'a license to kill.'" Petee Talley, convener of the Ohio Unity Coalition
  • "Why give people a legal way to kill?" - Matt Joseph, Dayton City Commissioner
  • House Bill 203...will only move us backward as urban cities. We do not need to promote any legislation that will promote gun violence any further than what we are dealing with right now." - Kevin Conwell, Cleveland City Councilman
  • "If I'm walking around my neighborhood on the North Side and someone sees me and feels threatened, they can shoot as they please." - Allan Irizarry-Graves, Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative

And so here we are. The media are clearly going to do their best to see to it that the HB 203 debate in Ohio is just a surrogate for retrying Zimmerman yet again. As simple as the change in the law is, comments like those above, as well as those given at a recent Town Hall meeting, prove the debate in Ohio will never be honest. Opponents to this bill are simply people who are angry that George Zimmerman was acquitted and want to do something impactful to show their outrage. Never mind that Ohio law will be nothing like Florida, this debate in Ohio will always be about putting Zimmerman on trial again, by the proxy of HB 203. Emotion reigns, and the facts just don't matter to them.

But the facts are still facts, and they DO matter to many other Ohioans. So here are the facts about why Ohio's law would be different than Florida's, as presented by Buckeye Firearms Association Chairman Jim Irvine, and published by the Gongwer News Service (but only after yours truly contacted them about a previous report which only presented the false claims being made.)

Earlier this week, Democrats blasted a bill (HB 203) that they said would increase violence and fear in Ohio by adopting a Florida statute that allowed George Zimmerman to be acquitted of killing Mr. Martin. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, October 2, 2013)

Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, disputed that characterization, saying the measure is much different than the divisive Florida law.

"There's been a lot of discussion on this bill, but this is really a minor tweak in Ohio law. This is not a drastic change," he said in an interview. "But because of the emotion of Zimmerman-Martin, it has become a political hot button."

The bill expands the circumstances under which a person has no duty to retreat before using lethal force in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of the person's residence, according to the Legislative Service Commission. Under the proposal, a person need not retreat if they are in a place where they have a lawful right to be.

Current law only specifies that individuals need not retreat from someone who is threatening them if they are at home or in their vehicle. The so-called Castle Doctrine was adopted several years ago.

Mr. Irvine said a critical difference between Rep. Terry Johnson's (R-McDermott) legislation and the Florida law is that the burden of proof will remain on an individual to prove their innocence by a preponderance of evidence that a lethal use of force was a matter of self-defense.

In Florida, the burden is on the state to prove that an individual committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt - a much lower standard, he said.

"So, obviously, it's a whole lot easier to get a conviction on somebody who uses lethal force against somebody in Ohio when the burden of proof is on somebody who used the gun, instead of on the state," he said. "In Ohio, the state doesn't have to prove anything."

Moreover, Florida's law allows for civil immunity, Mr. Irvine said. Under the Ohio proposal, someone who was found innocent of homicide due to self-defense could still be found liable in a civil suit for damages.

"Now the family's going to sue you because you intentionally shot their family member and he did have hospital bills, he did have pain and suffering, and you admitted you did it on purpose - you admitted that in criminal court," he said. "You did it because you had to, but now you're responsible for all his medical bills and you get sued for that. Florida's law has civil immunity for that. That's not in House Bill 203."

Rep. Mike Dovilla (R-Berea), chairman of the House Policy & Legislative Oversight Committee where the bill is pending, told Gongwer he agreed with Irvine's view that the burden of proof issue made the proposal significantly different than Florida's "stand your ground" law.

Mr. Irvine said the current "duty to retreat" in Ohio law didn't make sense in actual life-threatening situations.

He dismissed concerned that it would make it too difficult for prosecutors to convict criminals. "We get people claiming self-defense all the time in screwy cases and they still get convicted of murder."

Mr. Irvine said the bill also includes important changes to reciprocity of concealed carry permits with other states and improvements to background checks.

"We can't get reciprocity with Texas because Texas looks at us and says our background checks aren't good enough," he said. "It actually solves a real problem with background checks that everybody's talked about for the last year."

The Gongwer article concludes by outlining the other positive changes HB 203 would make in Ohio law:

The measure would require a search of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to determine eligibility to get a concealed handgun license, according to LSC's analysis.

The measure also includes provisions that would:

  • Require Ohio to recognize concealed handgun license issued by any state that recognizes Ohio-issued permits.
  • Eliminate the requirement that another state's license eligibility substantially comparable to Ohio's for the attorney general to enter into a reciprocity agreement.
  • Scratch the requirement to be an Ohio resident to get a license.
  • Prohibit certain immigrants from receiving a license.
  • Eliminate the minimum hours requirements for a firearms competency certification course.
  • Expand the exemption from training for former military members.
  • Allow certain low-level drug offenders to obtain a license, but block people with a misdemeanor domestic violence offense.
  • Specify that if a court in another state has granted an applicant relief from a factor that makes them ineligible to possess a firearm, it does not disqualify them for a license.
  • Prohibit someone who was dishonorably discharged from the military from receiving a license.
  • Expand the category of offenders who are prohibited from acquiring, having, carrying, or using firearms.
  • Specify that a person may not possess a firearm if doing so would be unlawful under federal law.
  • Authorizes the attorney general's investigators to be armed while they conduct certain investigations.
  • Specify that the exercise of a constitutional or statutory right does not, in itself, constitute the crime of either disorderly conduct or inducing panic, and does not constitute reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity.

Rep. Dovilla is quoted as saying he is working Rep. Johnson on some potential amendments to the bill and will likely hold another hearing on it in the next few weeks. One can on only hope that the committee, and the General Assembly as a whole, will continue to focus on the facts.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

Help us fight for your rights!

Become a member of Buckeye Firearms Association and support our grassroots efforts to defend and advance YOUR RIGHTS!

Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter

Get weekly news and instant alerts on the latest laws and politics that affect your gun rights. Enjoy cutting-edge commentary. Be among the first to hear about gun raffles, firearms training, and special events. Read more.

We respect your privacy and your email address will be kept confidential.


Buckeye Firearms Association is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending and advancing the right of citizens to own and use firearms for all legal activities, including self-defense, hunting, competition, and recreation. Read more.