COLUMBUS - Trying to build on success that began in Florida and spread to 17 other states, the National Rifle Association started a push in Ohio on Wednesday that would give people more authority to use deadly force to defend themselves both in and outside their homes.
People who injure or kill an attacker in self defense no longer would shoulder the burden to prove their actions were justifiable under a bill introduced Wednesday by Republican lawmakers. The proposal also would protect people who justifiably kill someone in self defense from civil lawsuits that could require them to pay damages.
The first similar law passed in Florida in 2005, and Ohio is one of 16 states where the NRA is pushing the legislation. The NRA also backed an Ohio law that enabled concealed carry permits for guns.
The influential gun-rights organization is methodically changing what it sees as laws that give undeserved protection to criminals and place the burden of proof on innocent victims.
Gun-control advocates argue the bill proposes a solution for a nonexistent problem. And they have said the laws hinge on a subjective interpretation of when a person may feel threatened, potentially leading to overreactions and fatal escalations to conflicts that could be defused by retreating.
The Ohio bill - which was introduced with roughly 50 co-sponsors in the House and Senate, including some Democrats - provides the presumption that a person "acted properly in self defense" if the person "was suffering or was about to suffer an offense of violence that was a felony."
"At the end of the day, what we're trying to do is make sure that people feel safer in their home, safer in their community, and take the affirmative steps necessary to protect themselves and their families," said sponsoring Sen. Steve Buehrer, a Republican from Delta.
Buehrer said the bill would only make changes to self-defense law for those protecting their home, which he said was his primary concern. But the NRA said language in the bill would also apply outside the home.
"Whether that ought to apply in other physical places is something we ought to debate," Buehrer said.
Supporters of the bill provide anecdotes illustrating the need for the change, but mainly argue that it doesn't make sense to place the burden of proof on people trying to defend themselves.
In a case "where a guy purely, clearly has the right to use self defense, we've had judges say, 'No, the guy with a broken leg should have jumped out the second-story window,' " said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association.
NRA regional lobbyist John Hohenwarter predicted the issue will pass easily in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
"You don't have to be 100 percent on NRA issues to agree that people have a right to defend themselves," he said.
HAS GOVERNOR'S BACKING
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland supports the legislation.
"The governor is a strong defender of Second Amendment rights and he supports the rights of individuals to defend themselves," spokesman Keith Dailey said.
Supporters believe the change would enable people to better make decisions about how to respond in a dangerous situation, free of fear they will be prosecuted.
But a problem with the bill is that people in disputes can "take the law into their own hands," said Toby Hoover, director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.
"The big fear is that people with deadly weapons will now assume they are capable of making a decision of when that can be used, wherever they are," Hoover said.
Hohenwarter said gun-control advocates sounded the same alarm when concealed-carry permits became law in many states. The "Wild West" prediction never materialized, he said.
Just before a 2005 Florida law went into effect to remove residents' duty to retreat from conflict in public places, a group that supports restrictions on guns handed out fliers in Florida airports warning tourists not to argue with locals because of what they called the "Shoot First" law.
Under the Florida law protecting people who are attacked, no one has used the new defense successfully to have murder charges dropped or to win acquittal from a jury. However, charges often are not filed in such self-defense cases.