Let’s get this out of the way right up front; this attempt by Democratic lawmakers to undo the stand your ground measure signed just a few weeks ago by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine isn’t going anywhere in the Republican-controlled statehouse. While the attempted repeal is doomed to fail, however, Democrats in the Buckeye State can and are using it as a springboard to attack the Republican majority.
According to several Democrats, the new measure is going to turn the state into a dystopian nightmare.
“The ‘stand your ground law’ is actually a ‘make my day law’ and jeopardizes the life of every Ohioan,” state Rep. Adam Miller, D-Columbus, said. “Someone can now shoot — and kill — merely by professing they thought they were threatened. Fender benders and parking lot standoffs are now ripe for gun violence. More troubling, this bill threatens every person of color in our state. We can do better — and we must.”
Rep. Miller is simply lying about the changes to Ohio self-defense law brought about by SB 175. Here’s the relevant portion of the new law.
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.
The law doesn’t change the standard for acting in self-defense. It merely states that when there is a “reasonable fear” of death or great bodily injury, individuals don’t have to retreat before defending themselves or others… as long as they’re somewhere they have a legal right to be. The bill does demand that prosecutors prove a defendant wasn’t acting in self-defense, but that’s the way it should be. We’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in a court of law.
Unfortunately, Miller isn’t the only Democrat claiming that the new law poses a particular threat to black Ohioans.
“There’s nothing worse than a coward. Only cowards would pass and sign a bill that has been proven to disproportionately harm Black people,” Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, said after its passage. “Only cowards would support a bill that allows people to shoot first and ask questions later. The blood of the lives lost from the signing and passage of this bill rests solely on those who supported it.”
Has Stand Your Ground been proven to disproportionately harm black people? The state representative didn’t offer any evidence, but researcher Howard Nemerov has studied the issue at length and has drawn the opposite conclusion.
Contrary to anti-self-defense rhetoric, blacks are treated equably in Stand Your Ground states. Comprehensive examination of FBI Supplemental Homicide data shows that in Stand Your Ground States:
• There has been no significant increase in black justifiable homicide victims.
• Black defenders account for a higher percent of justifiable homicides.
• Since enactment, Black defenders account for a higher percent of all justifiable defenses against white attackers.
If Sykes is truly interested in ensuring equitable outcomes in the criminal justice system, she should not only rethink her opposition to Stand Your Ground but rethink her support for things like bans on ammunition magazines that can hold more than ten rounds. Those are the types of non-violent, possessory offenses that are frequently used to put young black men behind bars, as the Cato Institute’s Jonathan Blanks has explained.
Specifically, policies shift to harass presumptively innocent individuals—typically young black and brown men—through policies like Stop‐and‐Frisk and then, if caught, laws punish offenders with disproportionate sentences as if they committed a violent crime for simple gun possession. U.S. Department of Justice policy, for example, instructs U.S. Attorneys to charge the maximum allowed under law for any given defendant. For drug offenders, the rule thus requires a charge that carries additional mandatory minimum five years’ imprisonment if the offender possesses a firearm, whether or not the offender used the gun in furtherance of the offense. Another federal law provides up to a 10‐year sentence if a gun owner is found to use or be addicted to illicit drugs. (N.B.: federal law does not recognize state‐legal medical marijuana use.) State laws vary, but illegal gun possession is often charged as a felony.
While illegal gun possession should be discouraged, the lengthy sentences and life‐long collateral consequences of felony convictions only add to the nation’s mass incarceration problem. Violent gun crimes should be prosecuted, but gun possession is not an inherently violent act and defendants should not be charged and sentenced as though it is.
Ohio Democrats aren’t going to get far with their legislative efforts to repeal Stand Your Ground, but they have plenty of allies in the media to help them spread the smear that the new law is racist in intent and practice. It’s a shameful response by anti-gun politicians, but sadly, it’s not particularly surprising to see.
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