Pass the ‘castle law’:
Pennsylvanians should be allowed to better protect their homes

(Note, this legislation has been passed in part of a stellar effort and support of Rick Saccone, it is now known as Act 10 of 2011 – Editor)

Before next month’s election, and following the overwhelming support shown in the state House of Representatives, let’s hope the Pennsylvania Senate quickly passes the “castle law,” House Bill 40, which affirms that a person’s home is his castle and that he can use deadly force to protect it.

Pennsylvania law currently allows self-defense but incorporates a “duty to retreat,” if possible, to avoid the use of deadly force. Defenders of a strong castle law insist no one should be compelled to surrender his home to an intruder.

HB 40 modifies the duty-to-retreat clause and broadens the definition of a home to encompass a porch, patio or attached deck. It also would apply to vehicles.

HB 40 strengthens a homeowner’s right to use deadly force to defend himself, his family and his property by creating the presumption that anyone unlawfully and forcefully entering a person’s home does so with the intent to inflict “serious bodily harm.” The bill contains two more important distinctions.

It removes the duty to retreat when someone is attacked in a public place. For example, a person in a shopping mall parking lot accosted by multiple assailants would no longer bear the duty to retreat but could stand his ground and defend himself with deadly force if he so chooses.

And it extends immunity from civil lawsuits to those who lawfully defend themselves, including police officers. Just imagine injuring an intruder who later sues you for his medical bills. You could exhaust your life savings in legal bills defending yourself for a lawful act. This is oppressive on its face and must be changed.

Opponents argue that HB 40 would increase gang violence by allowing gang-bangers to shoot back if attacked and by making it more difficult to prosecute gang shootings. But the protections would not apply to those involved in the commission of a crime.

Opponents also argue that the bill amounts to a “shoot first” defense, which ultimately will increase violence. But law-abiding citizens are not crazed killers; they have a history of acting responsibly and should not be placed at a disadvantage in order to protect the life of a criminal who means to do them harm.

The Supreme Court has ruled that police cannot be held legally responsible if they fail to protect particular individuals; they are obliged only to do their best to protect everyone. Given that reality, and considering lengthy response times — especially in rural areas with no police departments — individual citizens should not be asked to forfeit their inherent right of self defense to officers of the law who cannot protect them.

Passage of HB 40 would save lives — the lives of law-abiding citizens, by allowing them to defend themselves wherever they are, but especially in their homes, without worrying about trying to retreat when they are in imminent danger.

An FBI survey of convicted burglars found that 100 percent would not break into a home they knew was occupied by a gun owner. Let the word go out that if you enter another person’s home unlawfully in Pennsylvania you place your life in peril. That alone would deter many criminals.

Twenty-three states have recently strengthened their castle laws and a number of others have long had strong ones. States with “stand-your-ground” laws boast the lowest crime rates.

Pennsylvania needs to affirm the right of every resident to protect his life and those of his family members. No one should live in fear of criminals wherever he lawfully travels.

Pennsylvania’s castle law should be passed without delay. And before you vote in November for a state legislator, you should know where all the candidates stand on HB 40.