But unless the threat occurs in a home or workplace, Pennsylvanians are not justified in taking lethal action if they can retreat "with complete safety."
Now a state legislator, backed by the National Rifle Association, has won the first round in his attempt to broaden the state's laws governing self-protection.
A bill by Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, would eliminate the need to retreat under certain circumstances, make law-abiding citizens immune to lawsuits if they injure or kill someone in self-defense and expand the places where deadly force can be used to include a deck, patio, porch and vehicle.
"Individuals understand they don't want to wake up at 4 in the morning to the sound of breaking glass and don't want to be thinking about, as they're wiping the sleep from their eyes, whether to defend themselves or not," Mr. Perry said.
The controversial bill, opposed by the state's police chiefs and district attorneys, sailed Tuesday through the state House judiciary committee on a 22-4 vote.
"In our view, it's a solution in search of a problem," said Joe Grace, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a group that works to reduce gun violence. "I think it's a feel-good bill for the gun lobby."
In a letter dated Monday Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, notified the judiciary committee of his group's opposition to the bill.
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It "will provide violent criminals, including gang members, a ready defense for using violence against one another. Further, the bill encourages the taking of human life even when there is a safe option of retreating. I want to discourage the use of violence unless it is absolutely necessary, not encourage it," Mr. Marsico wrote.
Someone caught today between an armed assailant and a fence in an alleyway might have to scale the fence to safety before being justified in firing a shot in self-defense. Under Mr. Perry's changes, there would be no obligation to run.
With what some refer to as a "stand-your-ground" provision of the bill, "You do not have a duty to retreat." Read more