Ohio's 'stand your ground' law takes effect Tuesday. Here's what you need to know
Ohio's rules for using deadly force change on Tuesday.
That's when a new law, passed by Republicans in December, takes away the legal requirement that people try to retreat from a situation before using deadly force.
Supporters say Ohio's "stand your ground" law will give much needed protections to people caught in life-threatening situations. But opponents argue that "make my day" laws actually make people of color less safe and increase the number of gun deaths in America.
What is the law in Ohio?
Ohio gave people expansive self-defense rights while inside their homes and cars back in 2008, but the rules were different for city streets, county fairs and the grocery store parking lots. They required a person to attempt to retreat in public before firing a weapon. That requirement goes away Tuesday.
What doesn't change though is someone has to meet the standard for using lethal force.
"It doesn’t give you a right to shoot and ask questions later," said Eric Delbert, a police officer and co-owner of L.E.P.D. Firearms and Range in Columbus.
Here's what that standard means: A person must have the legal right to be wherever they are. They can't be the one who started the altercation. They have to fear for their life or serious bodily injury, and they had to be able to articulate why.
"If someone comes up and hits you, it may or may not be a justification...," Delbert said. "That’s for a jury to decide. It doesn’t change the standard for utilizing lethal force."
Stand your ground or license to kill?
Opponents like Rep. Adam Miller, D-Columbus, say that third condition, fearing for one's life, is so subjective and hard to prove false in court that it will "encourage people to stay in the confrontation" when they might otherwise have walked away.
"It will encourage people to avoid taking an open, obvious way out of a situation," he said.
Miller is an attorney for the U.S. Army reserves and recently returned from a tour as a Rule of Law Director for NATO/US forces in Afghanistan. He's also the co-sponsor of House Bill 38 that would put the duty to retreat back in state law.
He thinks stand your ground laws push civilians away from the rules for the use of force and into the military rules of engagement without proper training.
"We don’t need Joe and Susie Buckeye playing the role of police," Miller said. "These stand your ground folks came at this from the presumption that Ohio is some wild west frontier town."
Delbert said this problem comes down to proper training.
"We teach this at exhaustion during our classes. It has to be the last thing when you're out of options to use lethal force," he said. "You might not get charged criminally, but you will get sued civilly. Your life is going to change the moment you pull the trigger."
And Judi Phelps, who owns the On Guard Defense training center in Hocking Hills, said something similar when she testified in support of stand your ground last year.
She teaches her students to avoid, escape, defend. They understand that part. What confuses the women in her classes is the subjectiveness of "no reasonable means to retreat or escape."
"They wonder aloud whether they should even carry because they are left feeling that even if they defended themselves and survived that threat, the bigger threat could end up being victimized, once again, by the courts," Phelps said. "They don’t want to go to prison. They don’t want to hurt or kill someone. They just want to be left alone and be safe."
Bracing for impact
Communities of color across Ohio are doing another kind of training ahead of Tuesday's change.
"Shoot first laws are already in place in other states and have proven to disproportionately harm Black people and increase homicide rates," House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, said. "Ohio's new shoot first law will threaten more Black lives and ultimately make us all less safe."
That's why Rep. Dontavius Jarrells, D-Columbus, is working with community leaders in his district to explain how the new law works.
"In my district, we’ve seen a large number of shootings and violence. I think about the increased number of incidents that are likely to happen now," he said. "I want to make sure my constituents understand the magnitude of this legislation on their lives."
"Perception is power," Jarrells added. And the way people perceive stand your ground laws — even if it's incorrect — can have fatal consequences.
Michael Drejka, of Florida, was sentenced to 20 years in prison even though he claimed he stood his ground when he shot Markeis McGlockton over a parking space in 2018.
Justice may have been served in that case, Jarrells said. But McGlockton's four children are still going to grow up without a father.
"People don’t understand the specifics of stand your ground. They just hear the words and take a meaning from them," Jarrells said. "We are creating a space where the perception of this law could lead to violence."