House Bill 228 was amended Thursday and now focuses on altering the burden of proof in self-defense cases. Supporters of the change say Ohio is the only state in the nation that requires a defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence — a lower standard than reasonable doubt — that they acted in self-defense.
"We listened to the testimony and tried to incorporate a lot of those items," said Sen. Bill Coley, R-West Chester, chairman of the Government Oversight Committee. Republican Gov. John Kasich also had said he would veto a stand-your-ground bill.
The bill will shift that burden of proof to prosecutors to prove the shooting was not justified beyond a reasonable doubt.
The change "would ensure that those who are accused of a crime in a self-defense case receive a fair and just trial," said John Commerford, deputy managing director of the National Rifle Association.
County prosecutors have opposed the change, arguing that gun-rights advocates have failed to show where current law as it pertains to burden of proof or duty to retreat has resulted in miscarriages of justice.
"Prosecutors aren't charging people who justifiably are using force in self-defense right now," said Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. "This makes it harder to prosecute people who are using force that is not justifiable."
A number of other provisions in the House-passed bill backed by the NRA and other gun-rights organizations were stripped out of the bill, including a stand-your-ground provision, which would have eliminated the state's duty to retreat, requiring someone involved in a conflict to leave the scene, if possible, before using lethal force.
"When faced with an imminent threat, an individual needs to focus on the best manner of defense for themselves and their family," Commerford said. "While an avenue of escape will naturally be sought if safe and available, it should not be the only option required under the law."
But critics, including law enforcement and prosecutors, argued that the provision was unnecessary and could lead to more firearm deaths if the change emboldened people to think they no longer had to work to deescalate a confrontation before using force.
"Studies have shown that this legislation makes communities increasingly dangerous and less safe," said Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus.
Other changes in the bill removed the penalty reduction for improperly carrying a firearm. The House-passed bill had reduced many penalties, including improperly carrying a loaded, accessible gun in a vehicle, to minor misdemeanors.
The bill as passed also requires a concealed-carry license holder to show law enforcement officers that license when approached, and it bans straw-man purchases, where someone buys a firearm for a person who otherwise would not be able to obtain it. The bill would further prohibit cities from passing their own gun ordinances, and it gives them nine months to remove any gun laws off their books.
"I don't think there has ever been a time when we've gotten everything we wanted," said Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association. "We will be back to work on duty to retreat next session. It's a priority."
Senate Democrats unsuccessfully tried to add a "red-flag" amendment to the bill, allowing law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from a person who is considered an immediate danger to himself or others. A frustrated Kasich had sought the adoption of such a law and other measures he said would reduce gun violence.
The bill passed committee on a party-line vote.
Rep. Sarah LaTourette, R-Chagrin Falls, said the Senate removed some important pieces of the bill, but it remains good legislation. The House could concur on Senate changes later today, or wait until next week.
"They removed some of the provisions that the House felt very passionately about, but they left in one of the most important pieces, which is the burden shift," she said.
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