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Ohio House Passes 'Stand Your Ground' Bill Despite Concerns From Black Caucus

Democratic Representative Stephanie Howse.
Ohio House
Rep. Stephanie Howse after the Ohio House passed a controversial gun bill.

The Ohio House has overwhelmingly passed an NRA-backed "Stand Your Ground" gun bill 64-26, but not without controversy and an intense race-related debate on the House floor.

Stances On "Stand Your Ground"

Supporters of the bill, mainly Republicans such as sponsor Sarah Latourette of Chesterland, said this bill gets rid of the law that requires Ohioans who feel their lives are threatened from having a duty to retreat before being able to use a gun to defend themselves.

“Currently, Ohio is the only state where a person is guilty until proven innocent in cases of self-defense," Latourette said.

Opponents such as Democratic Rep. David Leland of Columbus said the “Stand Your Ground” legislation would dramatically cut penalties for violating existing state law.

“Crimes such as illegally carrying a concealed handgun, or illegally carrying a concealed handgun at a college or university, or illegally transporting a loaded firearm in a vehicle would all be punishable by that slap on the wrist," Leland said.

Large Floor Debate

Democratic Representative Stephanie Howse of Cleveland said this bill impacts African Americans, like herself, differently. She said she and other minorities are sometimes perceived as threatening to some people.

“What do you do in places and spaces when your presence literally, your face, your face, causes someone to be fearful of you?” Howse said.

Howse said the legislation would allow a person who is fearful because of someone else’s skin color to shoot in self-defense. She then ticked off the names of lawmakers sponsoring the legislation and the percentage of African Americans living in their districts.

And that’s when Republican House Speaker Ryan Smith gaveled her down.

“We are talking about constituencies and the impact of this legislation on constituencies," Howse said.

“And I’m asking you to keep the personalities away from it," Smith responded.

The interchange went on as Howse was gaveled out of order, and eventually, her microphone was shut off. Smith proceeded straight to the vote on the bill as protests from Howse could be heard in the background.

“The question is shall the bill pass as amended," Smith said. "The House will prepare and proceed to vote.”

The bill passed as Howse continued to protest.

“The lady will take her seat and refrain from being disruptive," Smith said.

Howse responded, “You want to have a conversation about race, Speaker Smith?”

Going Forward

Howse left the chamber and a few moments later spoke to reporters. She said she was offended that she was not allowed to make her point – that legislators who backed this bill represent predominately white constituencies.

“How is that offensive? When we write laws, our title is the Ohio House of Representatives," Howse said. "We might have a district number, but we make laws for all of Ohio, and I just want my colleagues on the other side to hear that, to understand that.”

Smith said he was offended and that’s why he gaveled her down.

“I didn’t gavel her down hard. I was just trying to get her attention. Frankly, she insinuated myself and Johnson and Latourette are racists and I find that infuriating,” Smith said.

Howse says she doesn’t think you can talk about a bill like this without taking race into consideration.

“Having a conversation of race is like, ‘We’re not going to talk about it,'" Howse said. "It’s like kryptonite here in this body and I just don’t understand, what’s the harm in looking at your blind spots because clearly there are? Sometimes you can miss some things if you only represent one, two, 10 percent of a group.”

Howse said she hopes the discussion about how this bill would affect people of color will continue as the bill now goes to the Senate, where it's likely to pass. But Gov. John Kasich has said he will veto it.