As we thankfully welcome in a new year, we also have a lot of news—not only from the most recent legislative session which ended in December, but also for the upcoming 2021 session. Let’s review the highlights and potential lowlights below.
This list is not necessarily exhaustive, but it does represent the most significant legal activity when it comes to gun rights and self-defense for Ohio citizens.
SB 175 “Duty to Retreat”
No news was bigger than the signing of Senate Bill 175 by Governor Mike DeWine in late December. The “Stand Your Ground” or “Duty to Retreat” bill as many are calling it represents a large shift in gun owner self-defense law from the previously established “Castle Doctrine” that we have operated under since 2008. Essentially it removes the requirement that one must attempt to withdraw through actions and/or words before relying on deadly force in self-defense. The bill expands the locations where a person has no duty to retreat to include any “place in which a person lawfully has a right to be.” All other requirements for a successful self-defense argument remain as this only affects one’s duty to retreat. You must still establish that there was a genuine and imminent threat of deadly force or threat of great bodily harm and that you did not create the incident for which you are relying on your firearm!
For your reference, language added to the bill in its final version and passed by the legislature clearly establishes the foundation for stand your ground in Ohio as it now states: “The person has no duty to retreat before using force in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of that person’s residence… A trier of fact shall not consider the possibility of retreat as a factor in determining whether or not a person who used force in self-defense, defense of another, or defense of that person’s residence reasonably believed that the force was necessary to prevent injury, loss, or risk to life or safety.” A true victory for Ohioans as Governor DeWine stood by his early promises to stand up for gun rights in Ohio.
HB 425 “Duty to Notify”
House Bill 425, which had been working its way through the state legislature last year, did not pass before the end of the session and will have to start anew in 2021. It will hopefully be passed this year and would clear up the confusion that comes from the requirement of “prompt” notification to police officers by CCW license holders when they are contacted by law enforcement while they are in possession of their firearms. How the law defines “prompt” has been widely debated and has led to the prosecution of many gun owners based on circumstances, many times, not of their control.
SB 221 “Safe Ohio Law”
Governor DeWine’s reaction to the shooting in Dayton, Ohio, in 2019 was to quickly move toward the enactment of greater gun restrictions under the guise of the “Safe Ohio” bill. Many Ohioans perceived this as a movement toward the establishment of “Red Flag” laws in Ohio. While it did not go as far as many other states that had passed such legislation, it was concerning to many. Regardless, the bill failed to pass before the end of the 2020 session and is now considered “dead.” It will have to be reintroduced again, starting the process from square one.
SB 317 “Exemption for Peace Officer Training/Guns in Schools”
While Ohio allows individual school districts to establish their own policy on whether to allow staff to carry firearms in schools, a recently litigated court case, Gabbard v. Madison School Board, has stymied a clear course for this to actually happen as an appeals court ruled such staff were required to take up to 700 hours of peace officer training before they could carry firearms in the school. The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments in January from both sides in Gabbard, and we will patiently await their decision. The bill, which would exempt staff, teachers, and administrators of schools from such training requirements, passed the senate in November 2020, and will have to continue its course in 2021 in an effort to gain full passage before the end of the year or else meet the same fate as the above SB 221.
SB 140 “Knife Rights”
While not gun law per se, it is important to many Ohioans who also want to, or already do, carry knives. Ohio’s carrying concealed weapons statute has long created confusion when it comes to carrying knives and other utility blades. This bill, which gained full passage in both the House and the Senate, was signed into law by Governor DeWine on January 11 and goes into effect on April 10, 2021. Essentially the law does two things:
- It repeals the ban on the manufacture and sale of “switchblade,” “spring blade,” and “gravity” knives, which are already legal to own in 44 states. This is expected to bring manufacturing jobs and industry to Ohio’s economy; and
- It clears up the confusion regarding the carry of ANY knife by defining a knife, razor, or cutting instrument as a “deadly weapon” or “weapon” ONLY if it is used as a weapon. This allows any knife to be carried concealed in Ohio.
HB 614 “Extends CHL Deadlines”
In response to the growing problem that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic, wherein many Ohio CCW license holders were unable to renew or get their licenses within the previously established time frame, the governor took action and signed this bill into law. It grants the following extensions and alleviates geographical restrictions as follows:
- The expiration date is extended by 90 days or until June 30, 2021, whichever is later, if your license is scheduled to expire between March 9, 2020 and June 30, 2021; and
- Until June 30, 2021, you can apply for or renew a license at ANY sheriff’s office in Ohio, whereas before the law was passed, you had to apply or renew in your county of residence or a contiguous county.
Federal Proposals on the Horizon
Last session, the 116th U.S. Congress proposed assault weapons bans, red flag orders, mandatory reporting of NICS denials to law enforcement, and countless other anti-2A legislation. All of these individual proposals were awful, but none were worse than the omnibus HR 5717 (Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act of 2020), which would have incorporated the worst provisions of each of these proposals. If you want a preview of what anti-gun bills filed during the 117th Congress could look like, pay attention to HR 5717. The 117th Congress was sworn in on January 3, 2021, and their term ends on January 3, 2023. To learn about how federal law is made, check out The Legislative Process by the United States House of Representatives, and stay tuned. We are keeping a close watch for bills and resolutions that would affect Second Amendment rights.
For more information about 2021 legislation that could impact your rights as a law-abiding gun owner, contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.
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