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Gov. Mike DeWine Signs 'Stand Your Ground' Law, Backing Off From Veto Threat

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (left) speaks alongside Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (right) during an August 2019 vigil at the scene of a mass shooting in Dayton. [John Minchillo / AP]
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, left, speaks alongside Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, right, during a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday signed a "Stand Your Ground" bill into law, backing off his threat to veto after Ohio lawmakers declined to pass gun control proposals.

The Republican-backed bill, SB175, completely removes the "duty to retreat" requirement before a gun owner can use lethal force in self-defense. Previously, state law only waived the duty to retreat at a person's home or car.

Legislators attached the controversial measure to a bill that grants civil immunity for deaths or injuries from handguns, before pushing it through during the lame-duck session.

"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 statement. "I am very disappointed, however, that the legislature did not include in this bill the essential provisions that I proposed to make it harder for dangerous criminals to illegally possess and use guns."

Although DeWine has long said he supports "Stand Your Ground," the governor criticized the legislature – controlled by his fellow Republicans – for their timing. In the wake of the 2019 shooting in Dayton, which left nine dead and many more wounded, DeWine had urged lawmakers to set the measure aside and instead pass his "STRONG Ohio" gun control package.

Appearing at an August 2019 vigil for victims of the Dayton shooting, DeWine was  drowned out by the crowd repeatedly shouting "Do something!"

The Ohio legislature ultimately did nothing on the matter, however, with neither Republican or Democratic leaders rallying behind DeWine's proposals. The "STRONG Ohio" bill, sponsored by state Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) received just three hearings before stalling in committee at the end of 2019.

In late December, DeWine  suggested he might go as far as reject SB175. 

"I made my position very clear that we should not be taking up bills like that, when we have bills that have been in front of the legislature for a year where we have really the opportunity to directly save lives," DeWine told reporters.

Had he done so, Republican leaders said they didn't have enough votes to overturn the veto. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley on Monday criticized the governor for folding to the "extreme elements" in his party. 

"I can't express my level of disappointment," Whaley said in a  statement. "Gov. DeWine came to our city and stood on stage for a vigil for our murdered friends and neighbors, and then told us he stood with our community in our fight against gun violence. Now it seems he does not."

Gun control advocates, as well as organizations representing Ohio mayors and police chiefs, vocally opposed "Stand Your Ground," and many Democratic lawmakers who initially co-sponsored SB175 removed their names from the legislation after the self-defense amendment was tacked on. 

House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) had harsh words for DeWine in a statement Monday night.

"There's nothing worse than a coward. Only cowards would pass and sign a bill that has been proven to disproportionately harm Black people," Sykes wrote. "Only cowards would support a bill that allows people to shoot first and ask questions later."

"Stand Your Ground" laws garnered national attention after the killing of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager, in Florida, and critics argued the bill would make Ohio more dangerous for people of color. DeWine's bill signing comes the month after two Black men were fatally shot by law enforcement officers in Columbus.

Celebrating DeWine's reversal were gun rights groups such as the Buckeye Firearms Association, which had made "Stand Your Ground" a top priority for the past several legislative sessions.

"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," executive director Dean Rieck said in a statement. "Our organization worked relentlessly down the stretch to see this bill become law."

Still, DeWine said in his signing statement that he would continue to seek gun control provisions such as those laid out in "STRONG Ohio" plan: raising penalties against violent offenders caught with a firearm, expanding the ability for courts to confiscate firearms, and improving the state's background check process.

"Everyone who cares about these issues knows that the provisions I am requesting in no way infringe upon the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens to own firearms," DeWine wrote. "They know what I am asking for is to make it harder for guns to get into the hands of criminals. These provisions will save lives."

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