In the wake of a recent string of gun violence, many locals turned out to learn more about the state's personal protection laws during an informational meeting held Thursday evening at Tripoli Triggers on Washington Boulevard in the city. State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, and Assistant District Attorney Aaron Biichle were on hand to explain the laws and answer questions.
Many, like area resident Don Wilton, felt that they were protected within their own homes, but worried that their understanding of Castle Doctrine was unclear.
"I don't think people are generally afraid of something happening to them inside their own homes. I think they're afraid of what [law enforcement] is going to believe," Wilton said.
Above, audience members at Thursday night’s seminar on self-defense laws look over a printed handout.
Mirabito conceded that the laws can be unclear for the layperson to read, and said that education was the first step to creating a safer populace.
"I believe that one of the easiest ways to prevent tragedies in communities is by educating citizens," Mirabito said.
Biichle agreed that the laws can be confusing, and many variables can effect whether or not a person defending his or her property was legally in the right.
"If you read through the Castle Doctrine statute, it sounds pretty straightforward. The concept is that an individual may use force, including deadly force, to protect his home or property without a duty to retreat. However, if you look into it more, you start to see that there is a lot of words that need to be defined farther," Biichle said.
The term "force," for instance, means the spectrum from non-deadly force to deadly, he explained.
Biichle used the example of a person being slapped by another. If the person being hit pulls out a machete and kills the attacker, that is not protected under the law.
"The force used in retaliation must be equal to the threat," Biichle said.
Deadly force is acceptable only if the victim believes he or she is at risk of severe injury or death, kidnapping, or sexual assault, he explained.
The law takes many things under consideration, such as how far apart the victim and attacker were, what kind of weapon the attacker has and whether or not the victim could have run away.
In order to be protected by the law, no victim should use deadly force unless it immediately is necessary.
"The Castle Doctrine does not give you unfettered permission to kill someone just because they're in your house. However, you aren't expected to retreat from your home," Biichle said.
Biichle used the example of a person walking downstairs in the morning to discover a drunk passed out in their living room. He said the homeowner was not justified in shooting and killing the unconscious person, because the homeowner wasn't in immediate threat.
The laws do not provide people protection if they currently are engaged in a criminal activity, or if illegal activity is taking place inside your residence.
"If you're already working outside the law, the law is not going to protect you," Biichle said.
When in doubt, be certain before pulling out a weapon, Mirabito said.
Many in the audience echoed the importance of personal responsibility for those who carry concealed weapons to give their attacker a chance to flee, rather than just begin shooting.
Biichle also reminded those in attendance that they are not legally permitted to protect their property with deadly force.
"Even that dirtbag stealing from you - his life has value in the eyes of the law," Biichle said.
"We all need to use good common sense before turning to deadly force," he added.