A man was shot and killed last week while trying to forcibly enter a southwestern Pennsylvania home, putting the state's new "Castle Doctrine" law to an early test.
A 32-year-old New Mexico man was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest while trying to enter the home near Washington, PA, during an apparent domestic dispute. The shooting came less than two weeks after Gov. Tom Corbett signed a Castle Doctrine law that expands an individual's right to use deadly force inside or outside a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle.
This issue hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer because our 10-year legal battle started when a thug with an extensive criminal record moved in next door and started trampling on our property rights. Given my experience, you might think I would support Castle Doctrine Laws. But I don't think introducing a gun into the equation would have been the right way to handle our problem. And I'm not sold on the Castle Doctrine in general, especially when you consider that the National Rifle Association (NRA) tends to push for it.
A general rule of thumb that I've come to live by: If the NRA is for it, I should be against it.
Many Americans probably have read about cases where a homeowner used force against an intruder only to then be sued for damages by the intruder. Such cases, indeed, sound nutty, and I suspect they are driving the Castle Doctrine. Here is a summary of the new Pennsylvania law:
Introduced by state Representative Scott Perry (R-92), HB 40 would permit law-abiding citizens to use force, including deadly force, against an attacker in their home and any place outside of their home where they have a legal right to be. If enacted into law, it would also protect individuals from civil lawsuits by the attacker or the attacker’s family when force is used.
What else does the Pennsylvania law accomplish? An article titled "More Protection or More Violence?" from the Allentown Morning Call provides insight:
Pennsylvania's age-old law giving residents the right to defend themselves inside their homes soon will extend past the front door to the porch, driveway and beyond. That much is clear.
What remains to be seen is whether the bill, expanding the so-called Castle Doctrine — as in your home is your castle — will lead to shootouts on Pennsylvania streets. . . .
The bill, passed Monday on a 45-5 vote in the state Senate, eliminates a person's duty to flee when confronted by an attacker with a deadly weapon, whether it's a gun, a knife or a baseball bat.
Instead, it gives victims of an attack the right to respond with deadly force if they believe they are in imminent danger of death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping or sexual assault.
Supporters say the law merely "levels the playing field" for well-armed, law-abiding citizens who might come face to face with thugs. Opponents, however, say it is not that simple:
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski said he worries the law could bring a spike in gun violence to Pennsylvania's densely populated cities.
"This is going to open us up to scenarios we haven't even imagined," he said.
"Say I'm a carpenter and I look threatening to someone. I have a hammer in my hand. Does that allow them to shoot me?" Pawlowski wondered.
Max Nacheman, of the gun violence prevention group CeaseFirePA, said the law could lead to people killing each other over parking spaces at the supermarket, or escalate road rage to shootings.
"In a civilized regular modern society, that shouldn't be the case," he said.
As for me, I clearly believe in the right to protect your property--both inside the house and in the yard. But I'm concerned that the Pennsylvania law will give some folks the idea that a gun is the logical first choice to help resolve most property-related disputes. As someone who has a lot of first-hand experience with unlawful intrusions, I'm not sure that's a good idea.
As big a thug as my neighbor is, he never showed signs of threatening me physically on my property. (He did later commit a felony assault by hitting me in the back with a roadside sign, but that took place near the entrance to our neighborhood.) When the neighbor's intrusions continued, I notified authorities and tried to resolve the matter through the legal process. My wife and I wound up in a 10-year legal nightmare because incompetent law-enforcement officers, and corrupt judges and lawyers, did not do their jobs.
Do I wish now that I had confronted my neighbor with a gun early on? No, I do not. The situation didn't call for anything like that, and I'm concerned about laws that give the impression that guns should be the "solution of choice" for property-related problems.