Former foe of Pa. self-defense bill changes course

    A high-profile opponent of a bill expanding the right to deadly self-defense said he’s leaning toward endorsing the measure as it makes its way through Pennsylvania’s General Assembly again this year.

    When Gov. Ed Rendell vetoed the “Castle Doctrine” legislation last year, he cited the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association’s opposition to the bill as a major factor.

    “In approaching this decision, I spoke to Edward Marsico, the respected District Attorney of Dauphin County and the chair of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association,” Rendell wrote in his November veto message. “He told me that ‘this bill is proposing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist’ and that, if approved, it would create ‘great opportunities for defense lawyers of violent criminals.’ I agree.”

    Marsico made similar comments during House hearings on the measure.

    Now, Marsico says the DA association is working with, and not against, Republican lawmakers, in an effort to change the bill’s language. New language the group helped craft would only eliminate the duty to retreat before firing if the other person is armed.

    “It also provides that the individual who wants to avail themselves of the expanded doctrine cannot be engaged in any criminal activity,” he said. “And prior versions of the legislation put the onus on the prosecution to prove there was no criminal activity. We’ve removed that with the current amendment.”

    He outlined one more change.

    “The other thing in the current amendment does is that it provides that if someone’s going to claim the expanded ‘stand your ground’ doctrine, and they use a firearm in defending themselves, then they have to be legally in possession of that firearm,” he said. “So we’ve tightened the law a lot.”

    The Senate overwhelmingly approved a new “Castle Doctrine” measure earlier this week, as did a House committee. The legislation is now before the full House, and if the new language stays in place, Marsico said the DA association will “probably” drop its formal opposition to the effort.

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