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

Mourners gather for a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio.
John Minchillo
Associated Press
Mourners gather for a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio.

"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.”

Last week, 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” before using lethal force in a deadly situation, 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," Cooper said. "Fight B, and there's always a Fight B, happens in the courtroom. And it's just as dangerous."

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 – whose organization has lobbied for years to pass the bill – firearms instructors like Cooper can go on teaching classes 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.

Despite DeWine's urge for "common sense" gun control measures, and hint that he might veto "Stand Your Ground," Republican leaders in the legislature declined to vote on the governor's proposals. DeWine did not follow through on his veto threat.

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% 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. “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 the law 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.