They say a man's home is his castle. But what about the moat, the village and rest of the kingdom that surrounds it? Does a man have the kingly power to execute with impunity any nave who harasses or threatens him in the shires that surround his "castle"?
That's the issue in the debate over a proposed expansion of Pennsylvania's "Castle Doctrine." Current law allows people to protect themselves using deadly force if they are threatened in their homes or workplaces - without a "duty to retreat." Basically, if someone breaks into your home and tries to rob, rape or kill you, you can shoot him (or her).
Most people can sensibly agree with that. (But they should be cautioned against sleeping with a loaded pistol under their pillow and blasting away at any noise in the night. It could be a spouse or a child or a pet, as we've seen in too many tragic cases.)
But outside the home or workplace, out on the street or in the countryside, the law requires people to try to get away before pulling out Smith and teaching some thug a Wesson. If you can't get away or are in immediate danger, you can use your weapon in self-defense.
A bill proposed by state Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, and passed by the Legislature would expand the castle walls to anywhere a person feels threatened. It removes the "duty to retreat" provision.
When it reached his desk last week, Gov. Rendell exercised his own sort of castle doctrine and shot it down, saying it was a threat to society and an attempt to solve an almost nonexistent problem.
Cases where police or prosecutors have charged innocent citizens for shooting attackers outside the home are exceedingly rare, he said.
More likely, he suggested, expanding the castle walls would give cover to criminals who were involved in, say, drug deals gone bad, and who don't deserve protection of the self-defense laws. Police and prosecutor groups agree with that concern, saying wily defense attorneys will twist the provisions to help exactly the creeps the law was enacted to protect citizens against.
That would be a horrible unintended consequence of a well-intentioned bill.
Rep. Perry and other local lawmakers who voted for this legislation are right that people shouldn't be afraid to protect themselves from thugs. But the governor, police and prosecutors are saying that, under existing law, they shouldn't fear defending themselves - as long as they're not in the midst of some criminal activity themselves.
Some local lawmakers said they voted for the bill because it provides protection from civil liability for people who defend themselves against attackers.
That's a legitimate concern.
But the governor is right the legislation that hit his desk is too much of a social liability. It's just not a good idea to have people - many of whom are poorly trained or untrained in proper firearms usage - walking around, packing heat, shooting first and asking questions later.
This isn't the Wild West - or the feudal dark ages.