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Ohio House advances broad 'stand your ground' bill

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ohio's state House approved a broad "stand your ground" measure on Wednesday that would grant gun owners wider latitude to use their weapons to defend themselves.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House voted 62-27 to advance the bill to the state Senate.

If it eventually becomes law, Ohio would join at least 22 other U.S. states that have a version of the law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The 2012 Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, by George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman, sparked a national debate over similar "stand your ground" laws. Zimmerman was acquitted at trial.

The Ohio bill's sponsor, Republican Representative Terry Johnson, said the measure could save lives. "Someone attacked by a criminal should not face a prosecutor," he said.

Democrats said the bill would embolden gun owners to take justice into their own hands.

"Somebody is going to die because of this," said Democratic Representative Fred Strahorn. "Nothing in that provision needs to be there."

According to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the bill would expand the circumstances under which a person does not have to retreat before using force in self-defense, defense of their residence or defending another person,

Under the bill, a person would not need to retreat if they are in a place where they have a lawful right to be. The current law says a person does not have to retreat if they are in their residence, vehicle or the vehicle of an immediate family member.

"We're concerned about people pulling their guns and being aggressive," said Sam Hoover, staff attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, California.

"The statutes are emboldening people to some degree - they feel like they can shoot without liability. Part of the problem is the psychological mindset."

The bill also reduces the period of training required for a permit to carry a concealed weapon from 12 hours to four and allows 10 years between recertification.

It also expands recognition of conceal carry permits from other states and allows for certain low-level drug offenders to obtain a license for a concealed handgun.

(Editing by Brendan O'Brien and Christopher Wilson)