COLUMBUS, OH — Last week, the Ohio House passed House Bill (HB) 228- a “Stand your Ground” bill which allows people to use deadly force in self-defense without having to retreat. The bill was passed by a vote of 61 to 26, It now heads to the Ohio Senate for consideration. If passed, Ohio will join twenty-five state nation-wide to having such a controversial bill.
Supporters of the bill say it allows Ohio to shift the burden of proof in self-defense cases to the prosecution.
Ohio Black Elected officials opposed the new bill because it puts African Americans in peril. Other Opponents – like the Fraternal Order of Police – say it will give people less incentive to de-escalate a situation before resorting to lethal force. This free pass on gun violence makes us all less safe,” said House Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton). “Instead of listening to the thousands of students, parents and families who’ve spoken out and marched for commonsense gun safety measures, we’re turning our backs on them with this divisive, tone-deaf bill that goes dangerously beyond our reasonable self-defense laws to make Ohio a ‘shoot first’ state.”
Democrats offered a “red flag” gun-safety amendment on the House floor, the same measure introduced by Gov. John Kasich in March 2018, but it was defeated largely on party lines.
Of course these bills are never without controversy but what transpired on the Ohio House floor was beyond outrageous.
State Rep. Stephanie Howse – (D-Cleveland) began her remarks in opposition to the bill explaining that the mere color of one’s skin is a threat to some people. St. Rep Howse , President of the Ohio Black Legislative Black Caucus, noted that…“This perceived threat is the basis which allows people to shoot first and ask questions later because the law would protect their perceived fear and render them justified in killing another human being. She specifically mentioned how she has been told that people were “scared of her” simple because of her presence.
Rep. Howse went on to discuss that the bill sponsors represent communities with populations that are less than 3% Black and because of that they have blind spots when it comes to the concerns of Black Ohioans.
This is where things get bizarre.
Ohio House Speaker Ryan Smith- (R-Vinton County) gavels Rep Howse out of order pursuant to a rule that prohibits members from using the name of other members when making remarks on the floor. The rule is unevenly enforced even as several members directly named members for various purposes. But, the only person to be gaveled down was Rep. Howse.
Rep. Howse continued to plead her case and requested the opportunity to finish But, her mic was cut off, and she was “silenced”
But that’s not even the worst part. While the exchange was going on, the Sargeant at Arms was directed towards Rep. Howse in an attempt to- what seemed like- to physically contain/confront her.
The Sergeant at Arms did backed down after several democrats members told him to back up however it was not lost on me and others that the very point that Rep Howse was trying to make played itself out as the Speaker, Clerk and Sargent at Arms (white men) all perceived her, a Black woman to be a threat, that required an armed law enforcement officer to “contain the situation.”
“We’ve seen what happens when law enforcement is called on Black people, “ said Minority House Whip St. Rep. Emilia Sykes, “ because they felt threatened.” Ohio Black Legislative Caucus members questioned what was Rep. Howse’s offense that required an armed official to encroach on her personal space? Identifying members by name? Or was it because she didn’t stop speaking? Neither one of St. Rep. Howse’s actions required law enforcement action.
News articles reporting the Ohio House action don’t mention this part of the story, “It needs to be shared,” said Rep Sykes, “because it paints the entire picture and again makes the pint about how Black people are treated.”
The “stand your ground” self-defense theory lessens a person’s duty to retreat to avoid the use of deadly force and provides protections and immunities from prosecution when deadly force is used in such instances.
These laws provide legal license for the killing of Black men as they are more likely than any other demographic to become victims of “stand your ground” killings. Black people are over-policed, perceived as threats, and are in danger at all times when a white person feels their power is challenged.
The “silencing” of an elected official who brings up race is unacceptable,” said Rep Sykes. “She (Rep Howse) is owed an apology.”
Here is what other Democratic members are saying about the Republican “Kill at Will” bill: “The big-government, “Shoot First” bill handcuffs local communities from taking crucial, commonsense steps to reduce gun violence, making our schools and neighborhoods less safe,” said Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood). “This unconstitutional attack on self-government kills the ability for citizens to come together in their communities to decide what’s right for them and creates a one-size-fits-all policy that does more to appease the gun lobby than protect the lives of Ohioans.”
“Although I support an individual’s right to carry, I believe stand your ground expands gun laws to the detriment of our communities by allowing individuals to shoot first and ask questions later,” said Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton). “We already had the Castle Doctrine in Ohio, which was adequate enough to allow us to protect ourselves by using force, including deadly force, in our homes or cars when we needed to. The Castle Doctrine encouraged people in those situations to avoid violence as much as possible, which is what we need during times of high stress and fear. Now our communities across Ohio will be more susceptible to gun violence and less safe for our families.”
“As thousands of Ohioans—students, parents and families—are crying out for commonsense gun safety measures, the entrenched majority continues to push legislation that makes our communities less safe,” said State Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron). “I will continue to stand with the vast majority of Ohioans who oppose these extreme bills that give a free pass to gun violence.”
“If we want young people to stay in Ohio, we need to make sure they feel safe. They don’t want to see gun penalties reduced and an expansion of the ability to use deadly force,” said Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus). “Our children want to be able to go to the movies, or a concert, or out with friends and not be afraid of a potential mass shooting. They want to live in places and cities that are trying to pass reasonable gun control measures. This bill doesn’t make anyone safer.”
“We’re constantly confronted with images of gun violence, and as public officials, it’s our responsibility to respond to these threats. Measures have been proposed regarding Red Flag laws, better background checks, protection from domestic violence offenders and more—but we are not considering those measures today,” said state Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus). Instead, HB 228 guts Ohio’s concealed carry statute, making all of us less safe by making crimes such as illegally carrying a concealed handgun punishable by a slap on the wrist. The bill also implements ‘shoot first ask questions later’ provisions that only create a greater likelihood of gun violence.
Use photos of Rep. Stephanie Howse, Rep. Emilia Sykes and Rep. Thomas Farr