Castle Doctrine explained in seminar

BY STACI WILSON

On Jan. 13, a masked intruder forced his way into to a Susquehanna County home. The 69-year-old homeowner came to the door carrying his .357 Smith & Wesson revolver.

Following a struggle, the homeowner shot the home invader in the groin area, foiling the attempted robbery as the injured perpetrator fled the scene.

The recent incident was used as an example of self-defense by Susquehanna County District Attorney Jason Legg Thursday night during a seminar on Pennsylvania’s Castle Doctrine and Conceal-Carry laws at the Hallstead Rod & Gun Club.

“He (the homeowner) wasn’t prosecuted,” Legg said. In fact, he said, the man has often expressed remorse about the shooting. “He never wanted to shoot another human being,” Legg said.

The event, hosted by State Rep. Sandra Major, R-111th, was the third of its kind in the area and drew well over 150 people.

“A reasonable person doesn’t want to shoot someone,” Legg said. “It’s a last resort. The law doesn’t want people to shoot people.”

During his part of the presentation, the district attorney stressed self-defense is born only out of “necessity.”

The state’s Expanded Castle Doctrine – signed into law in 2011 – is only “baby steps away from the collective wisdom of centuries,” Legg said.

Pennsylvania’s self-defense laws find their roots in church canon law and later in the common law.

Legg simplified the historical content of the law to, “If less than lethal force is necessary, don’t use it.”

In order for self-defense to come into play, the shooter cannot be the initial aggressor. Legg said, “You can’t start a chain of events and then claim self-defense.”

A person most also have a “reasonable belief” they are in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.

Legg told the crowd, “The problem is there are a lot of unreasonable people out there. They don’t know the law and they think they have the right to do it.”

And with a few exceptions, a person has the “duty to retreat” before being able to use deadly force in self-defense.

Legg said people often have questions on the “retreat” provision of the law. He noted that people are only required by the law to retreat if they can “safely” do so.

But, no duty to retreat exists within a person’s home, the district attorney noted.

Tasked with the responsibility to issue gun permits, Sheriff Benedict reviewed the state’s firearms laws.
By a show of hands, most people in the room possessed a License to Carry – enabling them to carry their firearm concealed on them or in their vehicle in the state.

He also spoke about the “reciprocity laws,” advising gun owners to look up the laws in each state they are traveling to and through.

Benedict said that up until May 1, 2013, he allowed people from out-of-state to apply for their Pennsylvania license to carry. Most of the applicants came from neighboring New York, a state that does not have reciprocity with Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania permit allows the license holder to carry firearms in the states where reciprocity agreements are in place with the Commonwealth.

“Boy, did it get hectic,” Benedict said.

In 2012, the sheriff’s office processed over 1,600 applications. Within the first two months of 2013, the office was inundated with 605 applications.

Benedict said lines were forming 20-plus people deep. It was then that he, and several other county sheriffs along the New York border, decided to no longer issue the permits to out-of-state residents.
He now allows only out-of-state residents that own property in Susquehanna County to apply for the permit at his office.

Benedict said that Lackawanna and Wyoming counties are still issuing the licenses to out-of-state residents.

Just over halfway through this year, Benedict said his office has issued about 850 permits – back to the 2012 level.

Although many of them licensed, audience members had questions about carrying a firearm.

“If I pick up my kids from school and I am conceal-carrying, am I in violation?” one audience member asked.

“Yes,” came the simple answer from the sheriff.

“If I am carrying concealed during a traffic stop, do I tell the police officer?” another person asked.
Benedict said it is recommended that during a police stop, the driver leave his or her hands on the wheel.

If asked by law enforcement personnel if there is a weapon in the car, the driver must answer truthfully, both the sheriff and district attorney said.

Benedict said in most situations, the legally, licensed firearms owner offers that information to the police.

Information on reciprocity is available at www.attorneygeneral.gov.