Many people accept as proverbial truth that a man’s house is his castle, but there is less consensus about the means he can use to protect it.

On Oct. 5, House Bill 40 was passed by members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry, the bill aims to secure the rights of homeowners to defend themselves against intruders and give them immunity in civil courts if they are sued for wrongful death. The bill is now in the Senate, where it will be assigned to the Judiciary Committee.

If the bill is made law, it will allow individuals to presume that anyone illegally entering their dwelling or vehicle is doing so with intent to physically harm, rape or kidnap the residents. The victims of attack will be allowed to use deadly force to protect themselves without the stipulation that they try to retreat first.

The bill defines a dwelling as “any building or structure … which is for the time being the home or place of lodging of the actor.” This means that under so-called “castle doctrine,” students are protected in dorms or apartments.

Steven Jansen, vice president and chief operating officer of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, spoke of possible problems caused by the extension of castle doctrine to vehicles — pointing to an increasingly problematic phenomenon, road rage. Jansen brought up the hypothetical situation of an altercation leading to drivers pulling over to the side of the road and one deciding to act out of self-defense. If a person in this scenario were to feel threatened, he asked, “is it justifiable for that person to start shooting? I think not.”

However, proponents of the bill reject the assumption that individuals will act irrationally. Rachel Parsons, spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, said “this is a self-defense law to protect law-abiding citizens.”

Parsons rejected the stipulation in some state laws that requires individuals in their private homes or cars to retreat if they can, explaining, “you never want to feel like you have an obligation to run for your life as opposed to fighting back and defending yourself.”

Some opponents of the bill worry that individuals would exploit castle doctrine. To this claim, Parsons answered, “every single incident will be investigated by the police.”

Source: Jennifer Mindrum for The DP.

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