Ohio could soon be the latest state to enact a Stand Your Ground law, giving residents the right to use force to defend themselves in any place they are legally permitted to be.
Legislation introduced recently in the Ohio House of Representatives would expand the current Ohio Castle Doctrine, which says residents have no duty to retreat before using self-defense in their home or vehicle, and would allow Ohioans to use forceful self-defense regardless of location.
Local legislators and area residents have mixed opinions on House Bill 203, which would give Ohio a law similar to the Florida Stand Your Ground law that came to national attention during the recent trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
"There are a lot of people looking at the Martin case and saying the problem is with the state legislation," said Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany.
Zimmerman killed Martin during an altercation that ensued after Zimmerman followed the teen, convinced he was up to no good.
His acquittal last month stirred controversy, leading to nationwide protests.
Ohio House Bill 203
Would amend current Ohio Castle Doctrine, which says residents have no duty to retreat before using force to defend their home or vehicle.
Under the proposed change, people could forcefully defend themselves in any place where they lawfully have a right to be.
The bill also seeks to do away with the need for reciprocity agreements in order for Ohio to recognize another state's concealed carry licenses.
Source: Ohio House Bill 203.
Opening the door for more wide-ranging self-defense could potentially create more dangerous and tragic situations like Martin's, said Phillips, who added that she strongly supports the second amendment.
Marietta resident Greg Hunter, 53, agreed that expanding self-defense to public places is a bad idea.
"There are already enough people on the streets with guns anyway," he said.
The current law, giving people the right to protect themselves in their homes and vehicles, is adequate, said Phillips.
"It seems like a more responsible course of action is to encourage people to call law enforcement rather than start a confrontation, and sort it out," said Phillips.
But fellow state Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said he thinks the change would merely reinforce a notion that most Ohioans already know to be true.
"You have the right to defend yourself wherever you go when your life is being threatened. I think that's what the jury landed on in the Zimmerman trial," he said.
Lower Salem resident Paul Morrison shared that opinion.
"If their life is in danger, they ought to be able to defend themselves," he said.
Jeremy Barton, 33, of Coal Run, also shared that sentiment.
"You should have the right to protect yourself anywhere you are, not just your home," he said.
The law would still allow for prosecution of people who use force without a demonstrable threat, said Thompson.
A recent Athens County case that involved a man following and then shooting and killing a burglar in the woods, would have resulted in the same homicide charges under the newly proposed bill, said Assistant Athens County Prosecutor Meg Saunders.
"It still would have ended in the exact same circumstances because the new law still wouldn't have applied here. (The victim) was fleeing and the new law would still require you to be in proximity to use self-defense," she said.
Randy D. Richmond, 39, of Glouster, recently pleaded no contest to a third-degree felony reckless homicide charge and a first-degree misdemeanor negligent homicide charge for the June 20 death of Keith Rutter.
According to a press release from the Athens County Prosecutor's Office, Richmond had spotted Rutter in the area the day of the shooting and identified him as the suspect in several area burglaries.
Richmond told officers he watched from the woods near his mother-in-law's home and yelled at Rutter to halt when he caught him exiting his mother-in-law's home. When Rutter continued to flee, Richmond fired warning shots into the air and then tried to get him to stop by firing at his legs.
Instead, Rutter was fatally injured.
Richmond was sentenced to three years of probation, 60 hours of community service, and was required to pay $1,000 restitution to pay for Rutter's funeral, said Saunders.
House Bill 203 also seeks to amend and clarify issues pertaining to the issuance and acceptance of concealed carry licenses in Ohio.
The proposed change would do away with the need for a reciprocity agreement for concealed carry permits between states and instead would have Ohio automatically recognize concealed handgun licenses issued by another state.
Thompson believes the change would be a good step toward expanding concealed carry opportunities, of which he has been very supportive.
"Ultimately people who have concealed carry (permits) are responsible people who want to do the right thing," he said.
But Phillips said she worries the change will open the door for licensees from states with lax permitting standards to come into Ohio.
"The issue that folks in our area have raised with me, including law enforcement and some concealed carry instructors, is that there are some states that don't require any competency or background testing," she said.
The change would provide a loophole for people to circumvent Ohio's concealed carry guidelines and still have a permit valid in the state, she said.