Ohio House Democratic state lawmakers today voted against House Bill (HB) 228, the so-called Stand Your Ground bill, a Republican-sponsored effort to loosen gun safety standards by reducing firearm offenses, making it harder to prosecute gun violence cases and preempting local authority to enact commonsense safety protections for Ohio families.

“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.”

HB 228 would reverse Ohio’s standard of proof in gun violence cases, requiring the state to prove that a defendant was not using self-defense. In addition, the bill would erode home-rule authority by preempting local control over gun safety regulations. Finally, HB 228 reduces firearm offenses to minor misdemeanors and eliminates certain requirements for those driving with a concealed weapon.

“At a time where our country is plagued by gun violence and shootings of unarmed African Americans, passing Stand Your Ground legislation is complete disregard for the safety of all Ohioans. Removing the duty to retreat provision validates race-based fear as a defense for using deadly force,” said House Minority Whip Emilia Sykes (D-Akron). “Once again, the Republican majority is putting the special interests of their financial backers first instead of prioritizing the issues that matter to Ohio’s families.”

The bill comes amid unprecedented gun violence across the country. The recent massacre in Thousand Oaks, CA marked 307 mass shootings in the then-311 days in 2018. According to USA Today, four of the largest mass shootings in the last 50 years have happened this year alone.

A sheriff’s deputy was killed in the Thousand Oaks incident, four officers were wounded in the recent killing spree at a Pittsburgh Synagogue and just this week, a black security guard was gunned down by police as he tried to break up a fight at Chicago-area bar. Despite these incidents, gun advocates continue to call for more armed personnel in schools, places of worship and other public spaces across the country.

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.

"Thousands of students, moms, families – and even our own Republican Governor – have asked us to put commonsense gun safety laws in place. But this isn’t commonsense, it’s nonsense that will cost us lives and increase gun violence," said House Assistant Minority Whip Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati). "We want safe streets and neighborhoods, but this bill makes us all less safe."

After passing the House, the bill moves to the Senate for consideration.

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.”

“Despite opposition from the community, law enforcement and prosecutors, this Republican-led legislature is intentionally causing more divisions in Ohio by passing so-called "Stand Your Ground" legislation,” said Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President and state Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland). “This type of legislation is dangerous and leads to justified murder. The leaders of the Republican Party have shown their disregard for Ohioans and especially their disregard of black lives. It is a sad day in Ohio and I pray that one day my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will truly value the voices and lives of Ohioans—especially the 18 percent minority population of Ohio—and not intentionally divide Ohioans based on unfounded fear.”

“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.

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