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Pennsylvania Makes Big Step to Enforce Constitution

October 5, 2010

Pennsylvania Makes Big Step to Enforce Constitution

The state House today voted to significantly expand the so-called Castle Doctrine, which gives a homeowner the right to use deadly force to protect his life, his family or his house against a threatening intruder or assailant.

The House voted 159 to 38 in favor of House Bill 40, sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, which would expand protections included in the long-held idea that "a man's home is his castle."

Under present law, homeowners can use a gun or knife or other deadly weapon to defend themselves if they find themselves facing an intruder while in their living room, dining room, den, kitchen, basement or other areas within their house.

But some areas of a house -- a garage, a porch or deck, a driveway, a front or back yard, or a personal vehicle -- are not currently included in the places where an imperiled homeowner can simply fire at an intruder. Before doing so, the homeowner must first "retreat,'' meaning step backward, away from the intruder.

"That's absurd,'' Mr. Perry said.

Under his legislation, which now goes to the Senate, a homeowner could use deadly force against an intruder who accosts him in a garage, porch, yard etc. without first having to step back. The "duty to retreat'' would cease and a homeowner could "stand his ground."

But in order to justify the use of force, the homeowner must "genuinely feel his life and safety, or the lives and safety of his family, are threatened,'' Mr. Perry said.

Passage of the bill led to emotional comments from legislators.

"There will be more blood on the streets if this bill becomes law,'' said Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Philadelphia. "It encourages people to use deadly force even if they can safely retreat.''

The new law also would protect someone who uses a weapon for defense, as long as the owner is in a place where he or she is "legally permitted to be,'' such as being in a store, restaurant or other venue, walking in a parking lot or just walking along the street.

In any case, police and district attorneys 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

The entire bill can be viewed at www.legis.state.pa.us and plugging "HB40" into the box at the top.

The bill still needs Senate approval, and there are only a few days left in the current session. Gov. Ed Rendell said Tuesday he's not familiar with the bill's details and couldn't say if he'd sign it. He would have 10 days after it gets final legislative approval to make up his mind.

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