Changes to the 'Castle Doctrine' law, which provides for an individual's right to stand their ground and defend their home from an intruder or attacker, were enacted this past Saturday, and law enforcement officials are speaking out about how the public and firearm owners should best prepare themselves to handle such a situation.
Elk County Sheriff Jeffrey Krieg emphasized the importance of training.
"The more training you have, the less likely you are to have an accident or do something you regret," Krieg said.
He said that the sheriff's office offers two "Women and Handguns Seminars" each year to the community. The classes, sponsored by the Ridgway Rifle Club and local National Rifle Association Chapter (NRA), provide education and training in the proper use and maintenance of firearms. Sheriff Krieg said that because of cost restrictions, they do not currently offer a course for men.
Like Krieg, Trooper Bruce Morris of the Pennsylvania State Police advocates training in firearm usage and maintenance.
"With any weapon, get training in its use. Know the weapon and its limitations, as well as your own limitations," Morris said.
The trooper said his concern is that without proper physical and mental training, in a self-defense scenario a property owner's weapon could fall into the wrong hands.
"It's easy to say what action you'll take until confronted with the situation. You need the right mindset to take a person's life. If you aren't physically and mentally prepared, your weapon could fall into the offender's hands," Morris said.
The "up-close and personal nature" of self-defense adds to what Morris described as the "predator/ prey" mindset.
"Suddenly the offender is confronted with a weapon and has a knee-jerk reaction to take it away, get it into their own hands," Morris said.
Because of that potential, Morris reiterated that learning weapons retention techniques in self-defense scenarios is an integral part of any training regimen. Morris also said that weapons maintenance is equally important "if you're going to rely on it [a weapon] to defend yourself."
When asked if he thought the new provision of the law would help reduce crime, Krieg said he couldn't say for sure.
"I'm not sure how many criminals are even aware of it [the Castle Doctrine]. Do we need banners on the side of ATA buses to inform people?" Krieg said.
"The ones in the know are happy about this legislation."
Krieg also said that because of this law, people will feel more justified in protecting themselves, their home, and the area around their home.