Monday, November 15, 2010

The Cost of the Castle Doctrine

According to assorted tweets, the Pennsylvania House passed what is called "the castle doctrine" today. The Pennsylvania Independent "House passes Concurrence of Castle Doctrine Legislation On Last Session Day," by Darwyn Deyo) describes it this way:

The “Castle Doctrine” would expand the current law to remove the duty to retreat from an attacker and to permit the use of lethal force by individuals to protect themselves with firearms against an attacker, so long as the defendant has a legal right to be where they are and the attacker does not. The language of the bill excludes the use of such force against law enforcement.

This concerns me for a couple of reasons. Like many people involved in childrens' or community groups I often find myself going to the houses of people I don't know. This time of year those visits are often after dark. There is a lot of dropping off or picking up that goes on. You frequently hear or read emails that say "leave it in the door / under the basket on the front porch / in the mailbox / behind the lawn ornament, etc. Then there is the "just set it inside the side door" and other "roam around the house" options. Remember that many houses either don't have house numbers or they are not in places that are easily visible in the dark.

My standard m.o. is to find a good place to park and then wander up and down the street looking for the landmarks provided and squinting at or for house numbers. More than once I have stood under a streetlight with cell phone and school directory calling people to say I'm on their street but can't find the house. In those cases someone will come out on the porch and wave; then I know where I'm going. More than once I've gone to the wrong house and knocked on the door, sometimes startling the elderly or teens left home alone.

The most frequent scenario is me wandering up and down dark streets, approaching a couple of houses before finding the right one. Some of the houses / sidewalks are lit, some are not. Last month I was dropping off the order envelope for a kids' group fundraiser. The house didn't have a number and no one was home. Ditto for the house next door but I finally made an executive guess, left the envelope (no money involved at this stage) inside the screen door, left a message on the house phone, and went home.

As soon as this law is passed this behavior means a trigger happy resident at any of the houses I approach is more likely to shoot me. I wish I could ensure some way of only going to the houses I am supposed to but in nearly ten years of doing this I haven't found one yet. People can't always be home (because they are driving their kids all over creation or, lucky them!, having a rare night out). Much of the civic engagement I have been involved in means taking things places and given that many people have jobs or other obligations that take them out of their houses for long periods of time, it means taking things places when people aren't there.

Some kids always remember their homework; mine sometimes don't. We have made efforts to find "homework buddies" in the neighborhood. Someone you can call and find out what the homework is and, if it hasn't been filled in yet, borrow it long enough to make a copy on our home pc printer. This also means darting through sidewalks and driveways. In an effort to teach the consequences of behavior, and responsibility, we often have the kids make these quick trips themselves. About a year ago, however, there was a middle of the night exchange of gunfire between local police and residents having a domestic quarrel. Since then, just to be on the safe side in case some of the other neighbors were jumpy, I've done any needed homework runs myself. With the passage of the castle doctrine I will be making these trips by car now, driving 5 blocks instead of taking what would be a 2 minute walk via shortcuts.

PTAs, scout troops, church groups, community organizations and similar voluntary associations have been a hallmark of American society. The ability to legally shoot strangers on your lawn won't stop larcenous junkies in need of money to buy a fix, but it might make it a lot harder to find people willing to be the brownie troop's cookie mom.


ACM said...

There was a shooting of a trick-or-treater in Florida a few years ago under a law just like this -- or actually, less odious, as it didn't bar lawsuits based on wrongful shootings...

AboveAvgJane said...

I know Florida laws are a lot more lax. For exactly that reason I don't go to Florida unless it is necessary to do so. Then I don't do any exploring, and stay in or near the hotel or event that brought me there. Not that Florida probably cares whether I am there or not, but if enough people avoid it, the travel / business event / tourism industries might note a downtick.