Plain Dealer offers BALANCED coverage of Castle Doctrine law introduction

It took some time (one month, to be exact), but the Cleveland Plain Dealer has finally gotten around to publishing a story on SB184, Ohio's Castle Doctrine legislation introduced by Senator Steve Buehrer.

It may be surprising for gun owners to learn that the newspaper's coverage is much more fair than the paper has developed a reputation for.

From the story:

    Right now, Ohio law says that if you shoot an intruder dead in your home, you have to prove self-defense.

    If someone barges through your bedroom window in the middle of the night and you kill him, police and prosecutors could investigate, said State Sen. Steve Buehrer. To justify your actions, and avoid the chance of going to prison, you'd have to prove you believed you were in imminent danger.

    Buehrer wants to give you an automatic right to shoot. And if you do shoot, he wants to shield you from lawsuits.

    "We don't think that the homeowner should have to be harmed before he takes steps to protect himself," said Buehrer, a Republican from Delta, near Toledo. "Therefore, let's put the burden on the bad guy."

    The so-called Castle Doctrine -- similar to laws in 19 states, including Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan -- would give self-defenders immunity from lawsuits. As written, the Ohio bill pending in the House and Senate would extend your rights to your car and essentially anywhere you're threatened.

    "It's certainly about your house," Buehrer said. "Whether we want to extend the castle out a little further is something the legislature will have to debate."

The article goes on to present both sides of the debate from interested parties:

    Supporters of the proposal have given it a name that would make John Wayne proud: the "stand your ground" law.

    Opponents have a less favorable label, calling it the "shoot first" law.

    The National Rifle Association enthusiastically backs the bill, while the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has fought similar laws in other states. The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposes it, as does the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.

    "We don't need to give any more excuses for people shooting each other," coalition Executive Director Toby Hoover said. "It's not like we have a lot of people locked up for using deadly force in self-defense cases."

    Powell Police Chief Gary Vest, president of the Ohio Police Chiefs Association, said the law might sound promising, but it won't help on the street.

    "As a police officer, I would still encourage people to try and avoid a confrontation," Vest said.

    "This law may give you greater legal right, but that might not help you if you never make it into the courtroom."

    Gun-rights advocates retort that the current law unfairly forces some victims to defend their actions in criminal and civil courts.

The story goes on to report that Florida law enforcement are giving the law (which passed there two years ago under a torrent of shreiks from Toby Hoover's counterparts on that state) a favorable review:

    "Locally there's been no impact," said Capt. Mark Strobridge of the Orange County, Fla., Sheriff's Department.

    In Palm Beach County, sheriff's spokeswoman Teri Barbera said she hasn't noticed any increase in deadly shootings or stabbings.

Sen. Buehrer noted to the Plain Dealer that opponents to his bill offer the same kinds of predictions of gun violence that abounded when lawmakers were considering legislation to permit the carrying of concealed weapons.

While noting the thousands of people who have obtained their Ohio concealed handgun licences since they became available in 2004, Buehrer told the Plain Dealer "we certainly haven't seen the 'wild, wild West' fear that some people painted with concealed carry. I don't think this will, either."

The story concludes by referencing a well-known self-defense case from Cleveland earlier this year, in which a CHL-holder defended himself against a pair of armed muggers in his front yard:

    As proven in the Damon Wells case in April, Ohio residents have rights under the current law.

    Wells shot and killed 15-year-old Arthur Buford when Buford and a friend approached Wells to rob him at gunpoint.

    Police called the case self-defense. Wells wasn't charged.

    But under the proposed legislation, Wells could not be sued over Buford's death, Buehrer said.

At the time of this incident, the Plain Dealer erroneously referred to this as "the first time a concealed-carry permit holder has shot and killed an attacker". After a article proved that this wasn't even the first such incident reported in the Plain Dealer, the newspaper's coverage on the issue seemed to turn a corner. Several excellent op-eds were published supporting Mr. Wells, and a new effort to defeat the "thug culture" was launched in Cleveland.

It is encouraging to see a balanced story on a new piece of gun legislation published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Let us hope that it continues as hearings begin on this important legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice.

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