P ennsylvania is one of 24 states that have a version of its Castle Doctrine, which allows a citizen to use lethal force, without worry of being sued in civil court after the fact, if they feel threatened on their own property or in their own vehicle.
In this state there is no longer any requirement to retreat before shooting someone who is in your home or on your property without your permission.
Now it's pretty much shoot first and ask questions later, as long as you can convince law enforcement officers and the district attorney that you believed you were in imminent danger.
I have never been comfortable with that change in the law, although I -- having been robbed -- certainly know how it feels to be violated.
I have trouble accepting the notion that I should shoot someone without a really good reason. And the only good reason I can think of is the threat of violence.
Walk toward me with your fists clenched, and I might shoot you if you're standing in my living room. Pull a knife, a gun or anything else that might qualify as a weapon, and the chances are pretty good I would shoot you.
But in any case I can imagine, I'd try to retreat first. I think I have a moral responsibility to do that before I take a life.
In my mind, there's another point to be considered -- not everyone should own a handgun and/or be walking around with a license to carry it 24 hours a day.
Just being an adult over the age of 21 is not good enough for me. Just being free of a criminal record isn't good enough, either. I want someone with enough intelligence and mental stability that I don't have to worry about them going off half-cocked or reacting out of fear when it's not warranted.
I'd feel safer in a room full of steady Eddies than I ever would standing with one guy with a gun who's got the common sense of a bowling ball.
Because nothing is more final than death. And there is no excuse acceptable to me when someone is killed for no better reason than the color of their skin, the type of clothing they're wearing, the time of day or night, the way they're walking or their being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Which brings us to the murder of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Florida, by the way, is another of the 24 states with a version of the Castle Doctrine -- it's called Stand Your Ground. The only requirement is that one "feel" threatened before they shoot someone.
The problem with that, of course, is that you can take any two people -- you and me, for example -- and put them in an identical situation, and one is going to "feel" threatened before the other. No two, or 10 or 10,000 people are going to "feel" threatened at precisely the same instant.
That's humanly impossible.
So the chances are good someone could get killed without having half a chance to remove or reduce the threat if approached by the wrong person. Not good enough for me.
Martin was killed -- some say because he was a black kid who was wearing a hoodie and walking in a mostly white neighborhood -- by a neighborhood watch captain, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense.
But Martin was not armed. Not a weapon in sight.
So lacking any other evidence at this time, I'm inclined to think the young man was killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and came in contact with the wrong person (who happened to be carrying a gun).
And I'm thinking the same thing could just as easily have happened right here in York County.
I, for example, wear hooded sweatshirts about 300 days a year -- exclude the warmer months of June, July and August. The rest of the year, I'm wearing a hoodie. I like to be warm.
And no, it's not a fashion statement.
Of course, there are thousands of other people -- mostly kids and young adults, but a lot of us well-preserved types, too -- who wear hooded sweatshirts. For some of them, I guess, it is a fashion statement. But not me.
So now I have to worry that some idiot with a gun strapped to his hip or shoulder or stuck in his belt might take exception to the fact that I'm wearing a hoodie.
Maybe he thinks I'm walking somewhere I shouldn't be.
Maybe he thinks I'm looking for trouble.
Maybe he thinks I'm casing a joint with criminal activity in mind.
Maybe he thinks I've just robbed a bank or committed a rape because why else would I wear my hood up except to hide my face?
When all I'm doing is trying to get from point A to point B with the least amount of effort. I'm no threat to anyone.
But maybe he thinks I am because of the way I'm walking or the hood I'm wearing.
Maybe I'm a black kid walking in a predominantly white neighborhood.
Maybe I'm a white man walking in a predominantly black neighborhood.
Or maybe I'm an everyday, run of the mill kind of guy, minding my own business, when I'm approached by a gun-toting nitwit who's feeling his oats or has a chip on his shoulder.
He challenges me. I tell him to mind his own business. And the next thing you know, I'm dead.
Because he felt threatened and was carrying a gun.
That, my friends, is what we call "self defense" these days.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.