By Ann Sanner
COLUMBUS: An Ohio legislative panel cleared a measure Tuesday that makes broad changes to the state’s gun laws, including the addition of a “stand your ground” self-defense rule that has sparked similar debates on gun control across the country.
The measure would expand the circumstances in which Ohioans could use force to defend themselves without having a duty to first retreat from an attacker. Under current law, residents need not retreat if they are lawfully in their homes, vehicles or the vehicle of an immediate family member.
The bill would eliminate the duty to retreat in any place in which the person is lawfully allowed to be.
At least 22 states have similar laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The laws generally eliminate a person’s duty to retreat before using force in the face of a serious physical threat.
Debate over such measures has increased among the states following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the 2012 Florida shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.
Opponents say Ohio’s current self-defense laws are sufficient.
“I am not against the Second Amendment and the right to defend yourself, but we already have strong self-defense laws in Ohio,” state Rep. Alicia Reece, a Cincinnati Democrat, told the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee earlier this month.
She delivered to the committee a portion of the roughly 10,000 signatures that the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus and its partners recently collected from around the state. The petitions ask Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislative leaders not to enact a stand-your-ground gun law.
A floor vote is possible in the House on Wednesday for the bill, which also needs Senate approval.
Supporters of the provision say no person should have to retreat in order to ensure their own safety.
“When an Ohio citizen is in peril of serious bodily harm or even death at the hands of an attacker, his or her first duty should be self-defense, not a duty to retreat and hope for the best,” the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Terry Johnson, has said.
The number of newly issued concealed-weapons licenses in Ohio has been climbing at a record pace.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office reported last week that almost 82,200 new licenses were issued in the first nine months of the year. That’s more than any one calendar year since authorities started issuing the permits in 2004.
The highest yearly total of licenses issued in Ohio, including new and renewed licenses, was 76,000 in 2012.
The bill would require Ohio to recognize a concealed handgun license issued by a state if that state recognizes Ohio concealed handgun licenses.
Currently, the state’s attorney general must enter into a reciprocity agreement with another state only if that state’s eligibility requirements for a concealed handgun license are substantially comparable to Ohio’s requirements.