Bill would expand self-defense rights at home
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HARRISBURG -- The state House is scheduled today to consider a bill that would greatly expand the so-called Castle Doctrine, which gives a homeowner the right to use deadly force to protect his house and his life against an intruder or assailant.
Currently, a homeowner can use a gun or knife or other deadly weapon to defend himself if he is standing in his living room, dining room, den, kitchen or other areas contained within the actual house.
But some areas of a homeowner's property, such as a garage, an attached porch or deck, a driveway, a front or back yard, or his vehicle, are not currently included in the places where a homeowner can use deadly force against an intruder unless the homeowner first "retreats," meaning moves backward, away from the intruder.
Under House Bill 40, sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, the homeowner could use deadly force against an intruder who accosts him in a garage, porch, yard, etc., without first moving backward, as long as the homeowner "genuinely feels his life or the lives of his family, or their safety, are threatened," Mr. Perry said. The homeowner would no longer have to "retreat" away from the intruder before using a weapon for protection.
Another change pertains to what happens if the homeowner kills the would-be intruder who is on the property. The dead intruder's family wouldn't be allowed to bring a civil suit against the homeowner, as they can now.
"Right now a victim has a 'duty to retreat,' to physically move backward from an assailant," before using a weapon, Mr. Perry said. "Right now the scales are tipped slightly in favor of the would-be criminal. What we want is to tip them in favor of the law-abiding citizens."
But the change is broader than just allowing justified weapon use at a homeowner's house or property. If a store owner thinks his "life or safety is genuinely threatened" by a would-be robber who enters the store with a gun and vows to do him bodily harm unless he turns over money, the store owner would be legally allowed to protect himself by shooting the intruder.
However, the store owner wouldn't be legally justified in shooting just because he "thought" an intruder had a gun or because the intruder looked dangerous or unstable, Mr. Perry said.
The new law also would protect someone who uses a firearm for self-protection as long as the firearm owner is in any place where he or she is "legally permitted to be," such as a store, restaurant or other commercial venue, or just walking along the street. A person who uses a firearm while committing a drug deal or other illegal act would not be covered by this law, Mr. Perry said.
If an armed would-be robber entered a restaurant and threatened to shoot the customers or the employees, an armed patron who thought he or others were being "genuinely threatened" with death would, under the bill, have the legal right to shoot the would-be robber.
In any case, however, law enforcement authorities would retain the right to investigate any shooting and determine if a would-be victim was justified in shooting a would-be criminal. A district attorney could still bring criminal charges if he thought the potential victim fired his weapon too quickly, without proper justification or without feeling his life or the lives of others were actually in danger.
The entire bill can be viewed at www.legis.state.pa.us and plugging HB40 into the box at the top.
Based on several procedural votes on the bill taken Monday, including one that prevents it from being amended, it appears there are enough votes to pass it out of the House. But it still would need Senate approval, and there are only a few days left in the current session.
First Published October 5, 2010 12:14 pm