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COMMENTARY: ‘Castle doctrine’ is no throwback to Wild West

By   /   November 3, 2011  /   No Comments

By Kevin Binversie
 
Sorry to disappoint anyone, but Wyatt Earp died in 1929 and the shootout at the O.K. Corral was more than 130 years ago.
 
Listening to Wisconsin opponents of the recent enactment of concealed carry legislation and the soon-to-be passed “castle doctrine” legislation — which inhibits prosecution and civil litigation against those who use deadly force with a firearm in defense of their home — you would think they have a schedule the rest of us do not. On it, there are scheduled gunfights at high noon on Main Street, and early plans to shoot a teenage son or daughter around midnight.
 
Can we please calm down a bit? Maybe put down the remote and turn off the television. Stop watching the Westerns or those old after-school specials about guns in the home. Take a deep breathe, please.
 
The overwhelming majority of lawful gun owners are responsible with their weapons. They know the risks associated with firearms and take them quite seriously. They know the power they hold in their hands and how they can’t call back the bullets. They also know accidents may happen.
 
The overwhelming majority of gun crimes are committed by criminals who got their guns illegally.
 
Few doubt the chief purpose of castle doctrine laws is self-defense. However, it is often not the most important one. Modern legal history shows that few district attorneys nationwide will prosecute individuals defending themselves and their families from intruders. But civil litigation is an entirely different story.
 
We live in a highly litigious society, one in which even someone cleared of criminal wrongdoing for self-defense can face a lawsuit. This could lead to financial ruin on top of any psychological trauma. Civil immunity protections in castle doctrine laws allow for the victims of home intrusion to stop being victimized by the very people who invaded their homes in the first place.
 
Early this year Pennsylvania, which has the castle doctrine on its books, amended its own state law so it could add this very protection for gun and home owners. According to the National Rifle Association, 31 states have some form of the castle doctrine.
 
Gun control groups and other critics of castle doctrine like to call it a “Shoot First” law — a direct connection to the axiom, “Shoot First, Ask Questions Later.” But supporters don’t see it like that at all. They view it as a sign the legal system is on their side, not the side of the people illegally breaking into their homes. Legally and financially, they can protect themselves.
 
If such a scenario makes you think of Wyatt Earp or the O.K. Corral, you’ve been living in the past far, far too much.

Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at kevin.binversie@franklincenterhq.org.

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