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The Columbus Dispatch Thursday November 21, 2013 6:23 AM


Shortly after the House moved Ohio one step closer to enacting a controversial “stand your ground” law, Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard of Columbus didn’t mince words.

“Glad we did right by suburban kids with peanut allergies today. Too bad we couldn’t do the same for kids from the ’hood allergic to bullets,” she tweeted, referring to an allergy bill passed earlier in the day.

House Bill 203, a multifaceted gun bill, passed the House 62-27 yesterday and now goes to the Senate. Protestors in the balcony disrupted the session for a short time.

Franklin County lawmakers broke along party lines, except for Rep. Heather Bishoff, D-Blacklick, who supported it. Rep. Anne Gonzales, R-Westerville, was absent.

The bill changes Ohio’s self-defense law so that as long as a person is in a place he or she is lawfully allowed to be, the person has no duty to retreat before using deadly force in defense of one’s self, another person or one’s property.

Some Democrats, including Rep. Alicia Reece of Cincinnati, president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, called it a “kill at will” bill that would lead to deaths.

Rep. Terry Johnson responded, “What about a life that can be saved?”

“This provision benefits the victims of violent crime,” the McDermott Republican and bill sponsor said. “Someone attacked by a criminal and defends himself or herself should not face a prosecutor” and be forced to prove that he or she could not have retreated.

“A person facing a life-threatening situation should not face a duty to flee and hope for the best,” Johnson said.

The bill has faced opposition from prosecutors and law enforcement who argued there is no evidence Ohio’s current self-defense law needs to be changed. The duty to retreat, they said, encourages people to avoid deadly confrontations, or avoid escalating disputes to the point where deadly force is used.

They say it does not mean people cannot defend themselves when attacked or threatened by someone with a deadly weapon.

“We cannot, should not and would not accept a law that allows someone to follow someone who has done nothing … and hunt them down, and then hide behind the law,” Reece said, making references to the Florida shooting involving George Zimmerman.

Rep. Kevin Boyce, D-Columbus, described how he, as a 7-year-old boy, and his family learned that his father had been shot to death. The shooter went to prison, he said, “but under this bill, I believe it’s possible he would not go to prison in Ohio. That would be a travesty.”

But Johnson said that under the bill, a person who uses lethal force still has to prove he acted in self-defense, has to show he did not create or prolong the confrontation, and feared suffering great bodily harm.

“No matter what we do today, that stands,” he says.

He said some of the same people who testified against the bill also wrongly predicted that prior gun law changes would increase violence.

Rep. Matt Lynch, R-Chagrin Falls, said opponents falsely paint a picture that the bill will create armed vigilantes around every corner.

“We are making smart changes that allow people to properly exercise self-defense.”

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