More on the Pennsylvania “Castle Law”

1/29/11

Hon. Tom Corbett, Governor of Pennsylvania

Dear Sir,

Regarding Senate Bill 273, a bill allowing citizens to circumvent due process of law and arbitrarily decide a death penalty for an home intruder, I urge you to consider not only the superficially pleasing (to the gun lobby) aspects of this potential law, but how it invokes unintended consequences for the rest of the citizens of Pennsylvania.

1. There is no convincing evidence that most home intruders break and enter to cause bodily harm to homeowners. There is also no convincing evidence that most burglars are armed. This law would not require any determination as to the intent of an intruder or how dangerous they may or may not be. It would allow homeowners to treat them all the same, sentencing them to death on the basis of circumstantial evidence, then blame the victim for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

2. This law would circumvent the burden of proof that a home owner’s life was actually in jeopardy, giving him or her an incentive to shoot first and ask questions later, putting their spouses, kids, police officers, neighbors or firefighters lives in jeopardy, then in one step absolve them of any responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

3. This law would allow persons with murderous intent to arrange creative scenarios where murder could be committed with the guarantee of no judicial inquiry.

4. This law, if enacted, would quickly bring back the motive for alternative justice from the families of anyone shot dead without any due process. If denied judicial due process, families of the aggrieved would quickly resort to an emerging cottage industry of punishment-for hire.

Clearly, homeowners need and deserve some defense from intruders, but we are a nation of law. Circumventing due process of law, allowing, even encouraging what amounts to manslaughter, then absolving the shooter without any inquiry as to the facts is not the way to do it. I hope you will consider the unintended consequences of allowing citizens to ignore 300 years of law in this country, then condemning the State of Pennsylvania to ignore the consequences.

Sincerely,

David Crippen, MD

Following this letter, a very interesting conversation with a Pa State Senator who shall remain nameless:

A very interesting legislator, very perceptive and a very enlightening conversation for about five minutes. He had an agenda with me. This wasn’t just a bullshit session and he wasn’t going out of his way just to hear my concerns. As I had previously figured, he didn’t care about my concerns, but he wanted me to know he understood them and wanted me to know some of the why’s and wherefores of this law that is likely to pass. His talk with me was very structured. He did all of the talking. I think he had written down his agenda and was reciting it from a bullet list.

Here is the gist of it:

1. The chance of being killed by someone using illegal deadly force, in public or anywhere else has broken the threshold for individual action.

2. His constituents (and presumably the constituents of the rest of the State) have come to the conclusion that the police can’t protect them, and so they demand the authority as individuals to do whatever it takes to protect themselves AND…………

3. His constituents have also come to believe that the rule of law shouldn’t apply to them if they “think” they might be in mortal danger. So they want it suspended for certain defined applications….SO……..

4. They demand to be immune from any kind of prosecution should they as individuals decide to use deadly force to protect themselves, for any reason AND (because we are a nation of litigators) to protect them from resulting civil actions.

5. Simply put, constituents want an open ended authority to use deadly force to protect themselves in the basis of momentary decisions that they don’t want to have to defend. Their authority to use deadly force is inviolate. If someone enters their home, they don’t want to have to decide if they are in danger. They want the authority to shoot first and be guaranteed immunity no matter what the circumstances.

6. That’s what the constituents want and it is the duty of their elected representatives to give it to them, even though those individuals may have personal reservations..

7. He understood that the list of concerns I had written him were all true and all would probably come to pass in time. But it didn’t matter……Any unintended consequences are assumed by the law to be acceptable collateral damage.

Wasn’t much I could say to that.

I thanked him for enlightening me and I appreciated taking his valuable time to have a word with me. He said he hoped I got a clearer view of the big picture.

So we’re on our way back to Tombstone Territory in 1872.

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