Third hearing on HB 203 brings out the crazies; OACP denies own testimony submitted 5 years ago predicting same sort of mayhem

by Chad D. Baus

Any discussion about the claims being made by opponents to the portion of HB 203 that seeks to reform Ohio's self-defense law needs to begin with a simple explanation of how the law would actually change.

According to the individuals who offered testimony at yesterday's, 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.

Despite this easy-to-understand truth, opponents of Rep. Terry Johnson's (R-McDermott) bill lined up at yesterday's committee hearing, repeatedly comparing a Florida law erroneously blamed in the Trayvon Martin shooting because the Ohio proposal would expand the circumstances under which an individual does not have a "duty to retreat" from a threatening situation.

From coverage by the Gongwer News Service:

John Gilchrist, legislative counsel to the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, said his group opposes the bill because it sees nothing wrong with the current law and has heard no complaints with how it is written.

"The duty to retreat does not imply some cowardly act by a person; it means the person has the duty to mitigate, mollify, escape, withdraw from, avoid the situation or defuse the confrontation if he can," Mr. Gilchrist said.

The duty to retreat is only required by current law if the person has reasonable means of doing so without jeopardizing himself, he said, adding police and prosecutors have no desire to prosecute legitimate self-defense shootings.

"The association believes that repealing the duty to retreat will result in more violence, including gun violence particularly by those who are hot-headed or violently aggressive," Mr. Gilchrist said. "Stated differently, repealing the duty to retreat is a recipe for more violence whereby killings, currently considered to be criminal, will become justifiable homicides."

After his testimony, State Rep. Andy Brenner (R-Delaware) noted that Gilchrist had made similar warnings in past testimony and asked if Gilchrist had any statistics to prove that his predictions had come true. Gilchrist denied that he had made dire claims about previous legislation.

Brenner followed up, asking if he had in fact made predictions in testifying against Castle Doctrine legislation that Ohio would see more violent confrontations that end in death or injury if that legislation were passed. Gilchrist admitted that there was no substantial change before or after the Castle Doctrine legislation, but denied ever making such predictions. "You are talking nonsense. The things you are talking about, I didn't say."

Buckeye Firearms Association looked up his prior testimony. On March 13, 2008 testifying before the Criminal Justice Committee, Gilchrist, speaking again for OACP, submitted written testimony which he also read to the committee opposing HB 264 (companion legislation to SB 184, the "Castle Doctrine" law that was passed and signed into law by Governor Strickland).

"If individuals will no longer be required to retreat or stand down, this bill becomes even more objectionable. The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police believes that Ohio will have more violent confrontations that end in death or injury. And these individuals will not have committed a crime. An individual should not be allowed to assert self-defense when he could have easily and safety removed himself from a confrontation."

His 2008 testimony concluded, "Lastly, if the common law rules on self-defense are nullified, Ohio will see more violent confrontations."

That is amazingly similar testimony. So it would appear that Rep. Brenner was right. Opponents to good firearms-related legislation fill their testimony with "sky-is-falling" rhetoric, but it never comes true. They only have biased studies and fear of doom and mayhem if such legislation is passed.

Brenner and other committee members are wise to ask professional witnesses like Gilchrist to explain why the committee should take their latest predictions seriously when previous predictions of mayhem failed to materialize. Gilchrist's only response was to admit that previous legislation caused no problems, and to deny his own testimony.

In another strange twist, John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney's Association, also asked the committee to remove the self-defense law modifications, even as he admitted that the change would likely "simplify" prosecutor's ability to prosecute cases!

"While this change probably will not complicate our ability to prosecute these cases, and may even simplify it, we believe the current law serves a legitimate purpose and should not be changed without some showing of a concrete need to do so," he told the committee.

The day continued to get stranger. Again, from Gongwer:

Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) testified on behalf of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, saying her constituents were "outraged" by the legislation that equates to the Stand Your Ground approach. Thousands of petitions have been submitted in opposition to the legislation and eight major cities have passed resolutions to the same effect.

While other states are considering reversing Stand Your Ground laws following the Trayvon Martin shooting, Ohio is considering implementing the approach, she said. Lowering the threshold for the justifiable use of deadly force results in greater use of it.

"It is obvious that our constituents and communities are outraged by a potential Stand Your Ground law in this state," Rep. Reece said. "We already have strong self-defense laws here in Ohio."

Toledo City Councilwoman Lindsay Webb said her council passed a resolution urging the legislature to abandon any changes to the Castle doctrine.

...Rep. Brenner asked if there is a race issue with the person who does the shooting. He also questioned whether black individuals are being disproportionately impacted by the legal system in general. Ms. Webb said because of the way blacks are portrayed in the media and in the community they are a perceived threat.

"What is at play here, I think, is that idea," she said, adding it affects when a person feels comfortable pulling the trigger.

In response to the racially-charged testimony, Chairman Rep. Mike Dovilla (R-Berea) brought back some reality to the discussion, pointing out that the bill in question still leaves in place the burden of proof on the individual who fires the gun to show his or her life was threatened.

Also testifying in opposition was Julie Eichorn, speaking for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America - Ohio Chapter, who claimed that the bill promotes "vigilante justice."

Committee members also asked questions about the proposed reduction in mandatory training to obtain a concealed handgun license.

Rep. Ronald Gerberry (D-Austintown Twp.) noted that the bill would reduce the requirement from 12 to four hours.

Mr. Johnson said the content must be the same. He wanted there to be no hour requirement, but in speaking with stakeholders, he put the four-hour threshold in.

Rep. Gerberry said he doesn't know how he could feel comfortable carrying a concealed carry gun into a restaurant after only four hours of training if he has no prior experience firing a weapon. Mr. Johnson argued that the Second Amendment requires no training to keep and bear arms. One can carry openly without any training requirements.

The 12-hour requirement proves to be onerous, he said. But Mr. Gerberry said it is only onerous because the providers of the training do it all in one day instead of splitting it up.

Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) referenced school safety legislation (HB 8*) that allows but does not require schools to work with law enforcement in crafting safety plans and to provide training to any personnel chosen to be armed in the building. She questioned whether the person carrying a concealed weapon in schools could be prepared to handle a shooting scenario after four hours of instruction.

Mr. Johnson said the hour change would not impact the range component of the training. He said individuals could take additional training.
"This is a minimum requirement; you can do more if you want to," adding that trainers could compete based on offering more hours.

Rep. John Adams (R-Sidney) said he does not know anyone who takes a four-hour course then puts the gun in a box never to be used until needed. He said he expects individuals would continue to practice with the weapon.

Rep. Johnson noted that carrying a gun is a Second Amendment right, and should be treated similar to other constitutional rights. One does not need a training class to exercise free speech, freely assemble, or be secure in your places. The Second Amendment does not say we have the right to keep and bear arms after receiving 12 hours of training and range time. Training is important, and more training is better, but getting some initial training is critical. But for lower income people, the price of a 12 hour class can be prohibitive. For busy successful people, the time for a 12 hour class can be prohibitive. But everyone has a right to possess a gun to defend their life.

Many states have no required training to obtain a license, a point that was brought up by several people complaining about proposed reciprocity changes. What they were unable to provide was any evidence that a lack of mandated state training resulted in any problems. Even states that have zero training do not see big increases in accidental or wrongful shootings by their citizens carrying firearms compared to states like Ohio, which currently has among the highest amount of required training. They seem to miss the point that most people do far more training than is required by law, and will continue to do so no matter how much the training requirement is reduced.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, and BFA PAC Vice Chairman.

Media Coverage
WRGT (Fox Dayton) - Standing Their Ground

Supporters of the law say you already have a right to defend yourself in your car or your home. This would give you that same right no matter where you are.

"Currently in Ohio if I'm the victim of a crime outside my car I don't have that same presumption as if I'm inside my car," says Joe Eaton with the Buckeye Firearms Association.

Eaton says even with the change you would still have to prove you didn't start the confrontation and that you had an immediate fear of death and deadly force was the only option.

"The only time this comes into play if someone is the victim of a criminal act," Eaton says.

WRGT (Fox Dayton) - Stand Your Ground Future Uncertain

Those who support the bill though say it would make our streets safer, "now, the hysteria is gun owners will use this law to walk across the street and shoot somebody they don't like. Well, that's not going to meet the self defense test in Ohio," said Larry Moore, with Buckeye Firearms Association.

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