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Firearms Instructor Questions Wisdom Of Ohio's New 'Stand Your Ground' Law

Ohio's new law will make people more likely to draw their gun quicker, thinking they’re protected from prosecution, one Ohio firearms instructor said. [Somsak Suwanput / Shutterstock]
photo of firearms training

Arm the Populace founder and lead firearms trainer Douglas Cooper is a gun guy.

His photo on the company’s website is of a burly man with a shaved head, wearing a tan vest, with a gold ring on every finger and a long goatee hanging off his chin.

“As a gun owner, as a Second Amendment person, I believe everybody has the right to defend themselves, nobody should be a victim,” Cooper said. “ It's our battle cry.”

On Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 175, Ohio’s version of a “stand your ground” law. But even as a “gun guy,” Cooper thinks the policy, which removes what’s known as the “duty to retreat” from a dangerous situation before using lethal force, is a bad idea.

It will make people more likely to draw their gun quicker, thinking they’re protected from prosecution now, Cooper said.

“One of the things that we really hammer on our students is that Fight A happens in the street, parking lot, wherever. Fight B, and there's always a Fight B, happens in the courtroom. And it's just as dangerous,” Cooper said.

Under the new law, the two standards left to justify lethal force are the imminent threat of bodily harm and that the shooter is not the instigator of the violence.

According to Buckeye Firearms Association Executive Director Dean Rieck, firearms instructors like Cooper can go on teaching classed without any changes because of the new law.

“My take is that the ‘duty to retreat’ as it was in our law really was more of a confusing issue than anything else,” Rieck said.

The new law won’t change anything for police investigating a shooting or prosecutors considering whether to bring charges, he said.

“All the elements are going to remain the same – you can't instigate a situation,” Rieck said. “You can't be the one escalating a situation. You've got to basically be the good guy.”

During a press conference the day after signing “stand your ground” into law, DeWine offered a lukewarm endorsement of the measure, referring to his previous support for the policy.

“This is a commitment that I made several years ago and the legislature delivered a bill that did that,” DeWine said.

DeWine continues to press the legislature to pass other measures, including enhanced background checks on gun sales and stiffer penalties for gun crimes. In the wake of the 2019 shooting in Dayton, which left nine dead and more wounded, DeWine urged lawmakers to set other measures aside and instead pass his "STRONG Ohio" gun control package.

Research on existing “stand your ground” laws has found higher firearm homicide rates after states enact them.

One study of 204 cases in Florida found race was a predictor in whether the shooter was convicted – defendants who claimed self-defense in killing a white victim were more likely to be convicted than if the victim was Black.

Another study, also in Florida, found a 44 percent increase in youth homicide after passage of the “stand your ground” law there.

“I mean, I’m already seeing it on social media,” said Cooper from Arm the Populace. “People are talking about, it's going to be like the Wild West because we have ‘stand your ground’ in Ohio. And that’s not the case.”

For now, Cooper will go on teaching firearms classes the way he always has.

“The only confrontation you are guaranteed to come away from unharmed – and I'm not just talking about physically, I'm talking spiritually, emotionally, mentally and financially – is the one that's avoided,” Cooper said. “And ‘stand your ground’ doesn't really seem to foster that attitude.”

Cooper has spoken with attorneys and police officers in preparation for his first concealed carry classes since DeWine signed the bill. They told him no one will really know how “stand your ground” will be applied in Ohio until the first cases end up in court.

Prosecutors in Summit and Cuyahoga counties declined to comment for this story on how the new law will affect any open cases.

Ohio’s “stand your ground” law takes effect in April.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.