COLUMBUS, Ohio – Opponents including black legislators, youth and church groups decried the dangers of an Ohio "stand your ground" self-defense proposal on Wednesday, as the expansive gun measure cleared the state House.
Protesters at one point interrupted the lengthy debate, their shouts gaveled down by House Speaker William Batchelder, before the measure passed on a 62-27 vote. It now goes to the Senate.
State Rep. Alicia Reece, president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said broadening the list of circumstances under which people can use force without the duty to first retreat will be bad for the state.
Under current law, residents need not retreat before using force if they are lawfully in their homes, vehicles or the vehicle of an immediate family member. The measure would expand the circumstances where the use of force trumps the duty to retreat to public settings, such as stores and streets.
Reece said her members support the Second Amendment and a person's right to self-defense, but they have rallied, marched, and submitted 10,000 petition signatures urging the bill be defeated. Foes were working Wednesday to jam the phone lines of Gov. John Kasich and fellow Republican lawmakers in protest, she said.
James Hayes, an organizer of the Ohio Student Association, said statistics show similar measures that have cropped up around the country since George Zimmerman's acquittal in the 2012 Florida shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin have not reduced gun violence.
"As a young black man living in the post-Trayvon world, I have real concerns about the implications of 'stand your ground,'" said Hayes said.
Hayes, Reece and others say such laws pose unnecessary dangers to black teens if they dress, walk or listen to music in a way others perceive as threatening.
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 in the face of a serious physical threat. At least nine of those state laws include language stating one may "stand his or her ground." Ohio's bill doesn't include such language.
The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Terry Johnson, has taken issue with his measure being compared to Florida's law.
"No matter how many times you say 'stand your ground,' this is not a 'stand your ground' bill," Johnson, a McDermott Republican told his colleagues.
Supporters of the provision say no person should have to retreat in order to ensure his or her safety.
State Rep. Kevin Boyce, a Columbus Democrat, pleaded with fellow representatives to reject the self-defense provision of the bill — emotionally recalling the murder of his father at the hands of a cousin's angry boyfriend. Boyce said his father tried to protect a relative and ended up dead — and he feared that relaxed gun laws would have allowed his father's killer to go free.
Rep. Fred Strahorn, a fellow Democrat, said, "You pass this? Somebody's going to die."
Johnson said Democrats' depictions of gun-related crimes "just reinforces my resolve" for the need of the bill.
More than a dozen lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors to Johnson's bill, which also would ease certain license requirements for carrying concealed weapons and spell out how the state's attorney general enters into agreements with other states to allow Ohioans with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms among those states.
The Ohio Attorney General's Office recently reported almost 82,200 new concealed-carry licenses were issued in the first nine months of 2012, more than any one calendar year since permitting began in 2004.
Beside the self-defense provisions, the bill also would also set up reciprocity license agreements with other states that honor Ohio concealed-carry permits.
Tobi Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said the arrangement effectively gives other states' leaders the right to set gun policy in Ohio.
Following House passage, the bill would head next to the Senate. Among changes, it would:
— Eliminate the requirement that a person reside in Ohio to receive or renew a concealed handgun license;
— Eliminate the current 12-hour training requirement, substituting a minimum of four training hours in the safe handling and use of a firearm;
— Allow investigators with the attorney general's office to carry firearms when investigating offenses related to the Medicaid program or involving abuse or neglect in nursing homes and residential care facilities;
— Waive certain concealed-carry license renewal requirements for members of the armed forces, Peace Corps or foreign service while on active duty and for six months afterward.