Matthew T. Mangino
The Youngstown Vindicator
December 1, 2013
The Ohio House of Representatives voted recently to adopt a variation of the “stand your ground” legislation enacted by nearly half the states around the country.
Under current Ohio law, residents have a duty to retreat before using deadly force. Ohio House Bill 203 would eliminate the duty to retreat. The law would, under certain circumstances, permit the use of deadly force in self-defense.
The measure passed the House by a vote of 62-27. It now goes to the Senate. The bill is not without controversy. The Ohio House vote was interrupted by protests as opponents attempted to shout down legislators debating the bill on the house floor.
The legislation has been mockingly referred to as the “George Zimmerman bill,” named for the Florida man — recently arrested again — whose killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin fueled a national debate on stand your ground and self- defense.
There are notable opponents to the deadly self-defense laws. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. has taken a strong stance against stand your ground laws.
“There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if — and the ‘if’ is important — no safe retreat is available,” Holder said. “It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.”
Since Florida enacted the first stand-your-ground law in 2005, at least 22 other states have enacted some variation of the expansive self-defense law. The issue is unsettled even in states that have adopted the law.
In March, months before the Zimmerman trial, the New Hampshire House passed a bill to repeal the state’s stand your ground law enacted in 2011. The effort later failed in the state senate, according to the Concord Monitor.
Last summer, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called for a review of his state’s stand your ground law.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bill in North Carolina that would have amended aspects of the law regarding use of force against an intruder never made it out of committee. There were about a dozen bills before state legislatures in 2012, several of which would have amended circumstances allowing for use of force by citizens. None of those proposals advanced.
In Pennsylvania, the chances of repealing the expanded castle doctrine are next to none. In 2011, 45 out of 50 state senators voted in favor of the law. There is little stomach among Pennsylvania lawmakers for quarrelling with gun supporters.
An attempt to repeal Florida’s stand your ground law was defeated by an 11-2 vote in committee earlier last month, but the law remains hotly contested in Florida’s courtrooms and passionately debated on Florida’s streets.
There is growing concern that stand your ground laws may be doing more harm than good. There are a number of studies indicating that stand your ground is actually increasing homicides.
A Texas A&M University study found “that homicides go up by 7 to 9 percent in states that pass the laws, relative to states that didn’t pass the laws over the same time period,” according to A&M economist Mark Hoekstra.
As to whether the laws reduce crime — by creating a deterrent for criminals — he says, “we find no evidence of any deterrence effect over that same time period.”
A study sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found “that justifiable homicides increased by 53 percent in states with stand your ground laws, while decreasing by 5 percent in states without these laws.”
Regardless of the research, the political climate is clear. Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Christian Science Monitor, “For better or worse, stand your ground laws are here to stay.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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