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Self-defense rights plan faces hurdle in state House

| Monday, April 11, 2011

HARRISBURG -- A bill expanding self-defense protections outside the home could be on Gov. Tom Corbett's desk by the end of this week, but a move in the House might delay that.

The House, rather than approve a Senate-passed bill expanding the "castle doctrine," is set on Tuesday to pass an identical bill of its own, possibly delaying final passage for weeks.

Kim Stolfer of McDonald, chairman of the group Firearms Owners Against Crime, said he isn't concerned about delaying a bill that nearly became law last year. He said the House did the lion's share of work on the issue last session and Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, the House author, "deserves to have his name on it."

Under state law, the castle doctrine allows people to use lethal force to defend themselves in their homes without taking any steps in retreat. This legislation would extend that to outdoors and allow people to defend themselves against an attacker without backing up. It applies to any place a person is legally entitled to be.

It is intended as a protection against criminal prosecution and civil litigation for someone who fires in self-defense when facing an imminent threat.

The Senate passed its bill last month. If the House passed that bill without changes, it would go to Corbett, who has said he would sign it. But the House plans to take up Perry's bill, said Stephen Miskin, a House Republican spokesman.

Last session, it took a monumental effort for gun proponents to get a House vote on the bill, which opponents kept in committee, Stolfer said. Democrats controlled the House.

The Republican-controlled Senate approved the bill in October, but it was merged with provisions to strengthen Megan's Law to cover registration of out-of-state sex offenders. Then-Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, saying it improperly combined two subjects in one bill and that he feared the measure would escalate street violence.

"It's a matter of respect" for the House to put its stamp on the legislation, Stolfer said. He said that Perry, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, and Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, pushed the issue to the forefront.

Sen. Rich Alloway, R-Chambersburg, the Senate sponsor, said he's not looking for credit.

"I know my goal is to just get it done," Alloway said. He plans to meet soon with Perry, who said "leadership would like to see it be a House bill."

Miskin said Alloway's bill is in the House Judiciary Committee, where it would need to be approved, sent to the floor and be subject to potential amendments before a final vote.

Stolfer said he believes it will become law by mid-May.

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