COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine Monday signed into law a controversial bill that changes Ohio's "stand your ground" policy, expanding the use of firearms in self-defense anywhere someone has the right to be, not just in one's home or vehicle.
Senate Bill 175, sponsored by Republican State Senator Tim Schaffer, amends Ohio law to expand locations in which a person has no duty to retreat before using a firearm in defense. Previously, the so-called "stand your ground" law applied only in a person's residence or vehicle. The newly-signed legislation removes those conditions, expanding it to any place in which the person lawfully has a right to be. The possibility of retreat will no longer be a factor in determining whether or not the force used in self-defense, or defense of another, was necessary to prevent injury, loss, or risk to life or safety.
The bill also grants civil immunity to nonprofit corporations for certain injuries, deaths or losses resulting from the carrying of handguns.
"I have always believed that it is vital that law-abiding citizens have the right to legally protect themselves when confronted with a life-threatening situation," DeWine said in a written statement issued Monday afternoon. "While campaigning for Governor, I expressed my support for removing the ambiguity in Ohio’s self-defense law, and Senate Bill 175 accomplishes this goal. That is why I have signed this bill today."
DeWine criticized the legislature for not including additional provisions to enhance background checks or other measures that would "make it harder for dangerous criminals to illegally possess and use guns."
"Right now, the national and state background check systems are sometimes missing vital information – things such as convictions, active protection orders, and open warrants," DeWine said. "Requiring the submission of this important information into the background check systems is a common-sense reform that I will continue to pursue."
Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton and a sometime ally of the governor, said she couldn’t “express my level of disappointment” and accused him of giving into extremists in his own party. Shortly after the Dayton shooting, she and DeWine pledged to work together on a bipartisan effort to change gun laws.
“Our state needs principled leaders who will stand up for what is right — not what is politically easy,” Whaley tweeted.
Sen. Kenny Yuko of Cleveland, the top Senate Democrat, called Monday “a sad day.”
“This is not what people meant when they asked us to ‘do something’ last year after the deadly mass shooting in Dayton,” Yuko said in a tweet.
Minority Leader, Democrat Emilia Strong Sykes, condemned the governor signing the bill.
“There’s nothing worse than a coward. Only cowards would pass and sign a bill that has been proven to disproportionately harm Black people. Only cowards would support a bill that allows people to shoot first and ask questions later. The blood of the lives lost from the signing and passage of this bill rest solely on those who supported it," Strong Sykes said in a statement.
Danielle Sydnor with the Cleveland NAACP said this bill does not make our state safer.
"When individuals have the right to say, 'Oh, I was in fear for my life and I had no other choice but to use deadly force,' people go to that as their first first course of action," she said. "If we want Ohio to be welcoming, if we want to move our economy forward, we have to have a place that people can feel safe and in a state where you can shoot first and ask questions later, nobody should feel safe," she said.
Ayesha Bell Hardaway with Case Western Reserve University said that this bill allows people to pull the trigger based on subjective fear, and that is when bias can come into play.
"The research shows that white on black shootings were found to be justified in states with Stand Your Ground laws," she said. "I think is is really is it is a dangerous game that we're playing here with people's lives."
The Buckeye Firearms Association praised the move, saying DeWine kept multiple promises, both publicly and privately with the association, to sign the bill.
“We’re very pleased the Governor kept his promise to sign the repeal of Ohio’s duty to retreat law that forces victims of violent crime to retreat before they’re legally able to defend themselves,” said Dan Rieck, the group’s executive director.
Rob Sexton of Buckeye Firearms said this law still requires people to prove they feared for their life.
"It's just not realistic to say that people are going to be flippant with that responsibility because you're going to have to answer for it, one way or the other," he said. "I think it would be helpful for anyone, regardless of their color, to have that ability to defend themselves, especially in a situation where they're concerned about themselves or the life of a loved one."
Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Springfield Republican who championed the change, also noted that DeWine’s action kept a promise to enact the legislation. He called the measure a simple fix of existing law “that will protect law-abiding gun owners.”
Senate Bill 175 passed the House in a 52-31 vote on Dec. 17. The following day, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 18-11.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.