Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has until Thursday to sign or veto a bill expanding the state’s “Stand Your Ground” protections, and the managing editor of the Sandusky Register is going all in with his attempt to drum up opposition to the measure. In a story bizarrely headlined “Lawmakers Don’t Defend ‘Racist Law’” editor Matt Westerhold abandons all attempts at neutrality in favor of outright misinformation about what the bill actually does.
Three local lawmakers voted in favor of expanding gun rights in a way civil rights organizations say is racist and will lead to the deaths of more Black people.
But state Sen. Theresa Gavarone and state representatives DJ Swearingen and Dick Stein aren’t providing any explanation for why they support the “Stand Your Ground” provision in Senate Bill 175, which expands the definition of self-defense to include instances in which a person with a gun who feels threatened can chase down and kill another person.
Call me old-school, but it seems to me that if you’re going to state that SB 175 allows people to chase down and kill another person, you should be able to back up that claim. Westerhold, however, doesn’t back up his assertion with any facts. Here’s what the actual text of the bill says:
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 in which the person lawfully has a right to be.
Note that the language that’s been struck through is already a part of Ohio law, while the new text revises the existing statutes. SB 175 doesn’t establish a Stand Your Ground law, in other words, it simply simplifies and clarifies where gun owners are entitled to defend themselves without attempting to retreat beforehand. There’s simply nothing in the bill that would allow for a gun owner to chase down a suspect, because even under Stand Your Ground provisions gun owners must be responding to a threat against their own life or the life of another. There’s a reason why the provisions have been nicknamed Stand Your Ground and not Chase After Criminals.
Westerhold goes on to claim that the bill itself is “racist” while demonizing lawmakers who voted in favor of the legislation.
Daryl Murphy, president of the Sandusky branch of the NAACP, said he was confounded that Ohio lawmakers would support the blatantly racist law, especially in a year that saw the deaths of Aubrey and other Black people caused by racist violence. It’s also been a year of protest against racial violence, he said.
Lawmakers would not say what response they have for Murphy and other critics. The lawmakers who voted for the racist legislation failed to provide any explanation for their support of it. A House majority deputy press secretary who occasionally provides talking point responses on their behalf, also failed to provide any reply. It’s not clear if he shared the inquiry with other lawmakers who support the chase and kill legislation.
As researcher Howard Nemerov has pointed out, there’s no evidence that Stand Your Ground laws are racist in practice or in theory. In fact, according to Nemerov’s research, there has been no significant increase in black justifiable homicide victims in Stand Your Ground states, while black defenders account for both a higher percent of justifiable homicides and a higher percent of all justifiable defenses against white attackers.
This is simply media malpractice on the part of Westerhold, who has a duty to inform readers of the facts about SB 175. Is the opinion of the head of the local NAACP newsworthy? Sure, but his opinion doesn’t replace or negate what’s actually contained within the bill, and the simple fact is that Stand Your Ground doesn’t give anyone a license to “chase and kill” another.