The shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin has spurred an intense national conversation over controversial self-defense laws. Many argue that Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, is illegitimately using Florida’s Stand Your Ground law—which provides for the justifiable use of deadly force to protect one’s self from the threat of death or bodily harm—to shield himself from prosecution.
Last summer, after a long and emotional debate among Pennsylvania state lawmakers, Gov. Corbett signed into law House Bill 40, an expanded version of the state’s “Castle Doctrine,” which has long justified the use of deadly force for self-defense in one’s home without a duty to retreat. Prior to 2011, the law stipulated that if you were anywhere outside your home and you felt your life was being threatened, you were obligated by law to try to retreat first and use lethal force only as a last resort. The expanded law eliminates your duty to retreat in public spaces.
Yet there are differences between our Castle Doctrine and Florida’s Stand Your Ground law: The Castle Doctrine states that the person threatening your life must openly display a weapon for you to be justified in using deadly force. (Trayvon Martin was unarmed.)