A growing epidemic of gun violence is a problem in Pennsylvania, but the solution isn't to invite more gun play, which is what a bill discussed in the House Judiciary Committee recently would do.
Ostensibly, the purpose of House Bill 40 is high-minded: To allow law-abiding people to better protect themselves against intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution or civil action -- a theory based on the Castle Doctrine, the old English common law view that a home is a person's castle and can be defended.
But Pennsylvanians can already do that lawfully, particularly since the state constitution explicitly says that citizens have the right to bear arms in defense of themselves. If Pennsylvanians feel their lives are in danger at home or at work, they can shoot. The law works well.
What HB 40 proposes is an irresponsible and dangerous expansion of the use of deadly force. One's castle would be extended to the porch, deck or patio, indeed anywhere a person has the right to be, including vehicles (so vaguely defined they might even include skateboards). The person under attack would have no duty to retreat before using protective force, including deadly force.
This would be an open invitation to needless trouble and it would complicate the lives of police officers -- not to mention make Christmas come early for defense attorneys -- and all because of the guns-are-supreme mentality pushed by the National Rifle Association (which supports the bill) and others.
At the committee hearing on Nov. 19, an array of witnesses assailed the proposed legislation as overly broad, vague, dangerous and a call to shoot first and ask questions later. Among the groups with representatives critical of the bill were CeaseFirePA, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the Pennsylvania State Police.
Fortunately, the House Judiciary Committee did not vote on the bill and its chances may have misfired. That's a relief. You don't fight a fire by pouring gasoline on the flames.