Right to self-defense

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, and Lycoming County Assistant District Attorney Aaron Biichle discussed the state’s self-defense laws Thursday evening at Tripoli’s Triggers, 531 Washington Blvd.

Mirabito and Biichle emphasized the gravity of taking another’s life to the more than 50 gathered, and the importance of acting rationally and responsibly while protecting oneself.

“The law expects us to be a reasonable person,” Mirabito said.

He asked if those in attendance favored background checks, which was met with overwhelming vocal support.

The most recent self-defense law, which includes the castle doctrine – a home is a person’s castle – became law in 2011, for which Mirabito voted.

Use of deadly force is allowable by law if a person has a “reasonable belief that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat,” if someone has unlawfully and forcefully entered or is entering a dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle, or is trying to remove a person from such places, according to the law.

There are exceptions to that section of the law, such as resisting arrest, and more, Biichle said.

Also, just because someone is unlawfully in one’s home doesn’t automatically mean it’s justified to shoot the intruder, Biichle said. If the intruder is unconscious, for example, a reasonable person would not use deadly force, he said.

Regarding other self-defense laws outside the castle doctrine, force must be met only with equal force. “Don’t bring a gun to a fist fight,” Biichle said.

If safe retreat is possible, it is necessary under the law. However, that safe retreat requirement does not apply under the castle doctrine; retreat is not required in one’s home or at one’s workplace.

The state’s stand-your-ground law applies in “kill or be killed” situations, Biichle said. It allows use of deadly force as long as the person using deadly force is not involved in illegal activity at the time, is lawfully at that place, believes death or serious injury is imminent and the attacker displays a lethal weapon, Biichle said. People also have the right to use deadly force to protect others in these cases.

When this became law, the fear was “it would turn the streets into the Wild West” in relation to illicit drug deals, Biichle said, which didn’t happen because of the clause that states the person can’t be engaged in illegal activity at the time.

At times, property laws and the second amendment clash. If an employer bans weapons from the property, including the parking lot, the employee can’t bring weapons on that property, or even in her vehicle, Biichle said.

“The law’s a shotgun, not a scalpel,” Biichle said.

In the end, certainty must rule when using deadly force. “You better be sure” that’s the only choice, Biichle said, “and not use it in the heat of the moment.”