Standing their ground
Prosecutors, police express opposition to new gun law
Prosecutors around Ohio and the Fraternal Order of Police are not too happy about a controversial law that changes Ohio’s “stand your ground” policy.
Signed by Gov. Mike DeWine at the beginning of the year, it expands the use of firearms in self-defense anywhere someone has the right to be — and not just in one’s home or vehicle.
Senate Bill 175 expanded the criteria for when a person can use a firearm in self-defense without retreating. The prior “stand your ground” law involved threats in a home or vehicle.
Whether a person could retreat from the situation can no longer be a legal determination of whether force could be used to prevent injury or loss, or risk to life.
“I have always believed that it is vital that law-abiding citizens have the right to legally protect themselves when confronted with a life-threatening situation,” DeWine said in a written statement. “While campaigning for governor, I expressed my support for removing the ambiguity in Ohio’s self-defense law, and Senate Bill 175 accomplishes this goal.”
This disappoints the Prosecutors Association of Ohio’s president.
“We always felt that it was a good policy to require people to take an opportunity to retreat before using force if it was reasonable for them to do so,” Louis Tobin of Columbus said.
Tobin originally is from Columbiana County, where his father David was the Columbiana County prosecutor from the late 1970s until the early 1980s before becoming a common pleas judge there until 2010.
“The enactment of this is a blow to public safety in Ohio and a blow to using our justice system as a way of establishing the truth,” Tobin said. “The unfortunate result is that it will be more difficult to hold some bad actors accountable.”
Tobin said Ohio’s original law didn’t require retreat in all situations.
“It did prevent needless confrontations and promoted de-escalation,” he said.
He said the new law will allow a person to be able to use deadly force even when it can be avoided. The new law, Tobin said, also will put pressure on juries to come to the right conclusion with only partial information.
“Juries will be asked to decide whether the use of force was necessary, but this law specifically prohibits them from considering whether the person who used force could have safely walked away,” Tobin said. “We should want juries to have as much truthful information as possible in a truth-based justice system, and yet this law prevents that.”
Mahoning County Paul Gains said he thinks the new law is “ridiculous.”
Gains said he is encouraging people to “retreat if possible” and call the police when they encounter difficult situations.
“Our police officers are trained for these very things,” Gains said.
Defense attorney Jeff Goodman of Warren thought long before answering how the new law would affect him.
“Personally, I could see a lot of people going out and buying more guns,” Goodman said. “But as for me as a defense attorney, that could mean good news.”
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said he also preferred the original “stand your ground” law.
“As a general proposition, the previous law was sufficient, and this may have been unnecessarily expanded to address the gang shootings going on,” Watkins said. “But as a new law, we are obligated to follow it.”
Watkins said self-defense laws go back to the 1880s and have been sufficient to protect homeowners.
Gary Wolske, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, also has concerns about the new law, saying it may increase violent crime under the “guise of self-defense.”
“One of my main concerns is that our state Legislature has now made it legal for citizens to use deadly force to protect themselves and their property outside of their home. Also there is no ‘duty to retreat’ in an occupied vehicle, instead of possibly avoiding such deadly confrontation by retreating or attempting to de-escalate,” Wolske said.
Wolske said law enforcement has been urged to work in concert on calls with social workers and mental health workers to help “de-escalate” potentially violent outcomes.
“Now some of these same legislators and the governor have decided that instead of exercising a duty to retreat, it’s OK to stand your ground and use deadly force. The elimination of the duty to retreat increases the chances of injury or death by encouraging vigilantism and deadly force in situations where it is not necessary or appropriate,” Wolske said.
Additionally, the circumstances that cause people to feel threatened and unsafe are subject to personal biases, fears, misconceptions and possibly stereotyping, he said.
“One of my fears is that individuals that have a ‘beef’ with someone, be it over a boyfriend or girlfriend or a drug deal gone bad — or just a dispute over a contractual agreement … to such a point that the individual reacts by threatening him / her — and then one can claim he / she was concerned for their safety and that the other person planned to harm them and reacts with deadly force,” Wolske said.
Jim W. of Niles, who owns several guns but said he did not want his last name used for “fear of retribution,” said the new law gives him a little more protection as a homeowner to protect his family if someone breaks in or trespasses onto his property.
“I think it’s awesome,” Jim said. “It should have been here a long time ago. There also has been talk about making Ohio a gun sanctuary state, which also is awesome.”
He said President Joe Biden has said publicly on several occasions that he wants to take down the National Rifle Association.
“As a result, ammo that used to be $8.99 a box is now $32 a box, and it’s one box per customer per purchase,” the Niles man said.
Several gun stores in the Mahoning Valley were reluctant to say how the new law would affect their sales, reflecting on how sensitive this subject can be in the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and the political unrest in the wake of results from the 2020 presidential election.
One store dealer in Austintown, however, did agree to comment.
Tom Rinehart of Precision Shooting on Mahoning Avenue said most of his customers like the new law.
“The ‘stand your ground’ law was made for those people I deal with — law-abiding citizens who are candidates for carry and conceal classes,” Rinehart said.
Rinehart said he deals with eight firearm distributors to try to keep his guns in stock, but he did acknowledge an ammunition shortage.
“Most of the growing segment of gun owners today is women,” he said. “They are registering for CCW classes as fast as they open up.”
Rinehart said most of the preferable guns for protection are 9 mm models.
“Some do like the old Smith and Wesson .38s that I can’t keep in stock or the smaller Derringers,” he said.