Gun Law

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“We’re here to discuss the facts and myths and dispel the rumors,” Bohn told the crowd. “Virtually all laws are open to interpretation by the police and the district attorney…You are responsible for all actions you take by a firearm.”

Attorney Brett Riegel explained that the state of Pennsylvania defines force in two ways, non-deadly and deadly. Non-deadly force, such as fisticuffs, relates to defending oneself in a way that will not cause the other person to be seriously hurt.

To use deadly force, that which can result in serious bodily injury or death, the person one is acting against must be immediately threatening to either kill, rape, or kidnap. “If you don’t have a reasonable belief that one of those is going to happen, you can’t use deadly force,” Riegel said.

The Castle Doctrine is a law stating that an individual does not have to retreat when in his or her home, or “castle,” and may use reasonable force, including deadly force, to defend his or herself. A person’s “castle” is considered not just to be his home, but whatever he is inhabiting at the moment, including a hotel room, a friend’s or relative’s house, or a car.

The panel discussed how lengthy the Castle Doctrine is, full of what-if situations that apply to many different scenarios. Many think the Castle Doctrine gives them a “license to kill,” but this isn’t so, Bohn told the crowd. “You have to have a justification for your actions,” he said.

Riegel went on that, when deadly force is used, a person shouldn’t justify himself or speak at all. If someone kills in self-defense, his next step should be to “shut up and lawyer up,” the attorney explained. He even asked the crowd to repeat back that phrase –“shut up and lawyer up.”

“If you do those two things, you’ll have your best chance to not be charged or to get a not-guilty verdict,” he said. In over 20 years as an attorney, Riegel has never seen a person explain his way out of using deadly force. He gave the example of a man who went to prison after using a firearm to defend himself. That man told police, “I didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident.” Those words got him convicted because they didn’t convey the whole story, which was that the man’s life was threatened.

Attorney Chris Slusser noted that, if a person initiates a confrontation outside his home, he loses his right to use deadly force. Also, deadly force used against a police officer is never acceptable, even if the officer is doing something illegal.

Chris Opiel, also an attorney, went on to discuss the myth that people who fire a warning shot into the air or shoot someone in the leg won’t be prosecuted. If a person has time to shoot a warning shot, he probably has time get away or act otherwise in the eyes of the law, he said.

“If you think you have the ability to shoot someone in the leg, you’re wrong,” added Riegel. In a high-pressure situation, a person’s adrenaline is high and he can easily miss the leg and shoot in a more life-threatening area. “It’s deadly force, whether you shoot his knee, his toes, or his chest,” Riegel said.

Chief Engler noted, “Law enforcement does not give warning shots. We don’t shoot tires out. We won’t shoot your leg…” Rather, he said, officers draw their weapons as they feel deadly force on their part may be necessary.

Too many rely on television and movies for their information about deadly force, Bohn said. Many believe that if you shoot someone outside, you must drag the body into your house before calling police, or if you shoot someone who isn’t armed, you must arm them before police arrive.

Neither of those are true, Engler said. When police arrive on the scene, they will diffuse the situation. If you’ve used deadly force, the officer will take your weapon and may photograph it. It is best to remain calm and cooperate, as the officer does not know who the perpetrator is at that point. “Listen to what the officer tells you,” the chief added.

Opiel reiterated the earlier recommendation to remain quiet. “If you ever have to use deadly force, call a lawyer,” he said. “My advice is to keep your mouth shut.”

With adrenaline running, “you’re not in any position to give any kind of cohesive statement,” Riegel said. “What your lawyer says on your behalf doesn’t get to be used against you in court. What you say, does.”

Another part of the seminar included Tredinnick’s explanation of the types of firearms to use for defense. He related that the pistol is his preferred weapon as it is small and easy to control. If other options are available to end a direct threat, he added, such as using martial arts or pepper spray, those are better options than using firearms.

“The best thing is to use your brain, try to avoid a confrontation,” Tredinnick stated. “If you see a threat going on down the street, turn and go the other way.”

He stressed that a person needs to be familiar and practiced at using his firearm. Shooting once a year is not adequate for a person to expertly know what he is doing; Tredinnick recommended gun owners practice at shooting ranges periodically.