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By Mark Anderson

Around 15 states have passed or are strongly considering codifying “the castle doctrine” into law. Based on English common law, this doctrine establishes that intruders breaking into homes, businesses or automobiles would be barred from filing lawsuits against property owners who act in self defense to protect themselves, their property and their loved ones.

Many states are also crafting such a law to also protect property owners from lawsuits filed by intruders’ relatives.

Florida started the trend to legally protect homes and business owners from frivolous lawsuits by intruders and assailants, based on the presumption that anyone, who is pursuing forcible or unwelcome entry, likely has harmful intentions.

“The law assumes that if someone is attempting to break into your house or steal your car, then they also have the intent to cause bodily harm,” said Michigan State Rep. Neal Nitz in an Aug. 20 legislative news circular.

Other states that have passed variations of this self-defense law include Alabama, Michigan, Indiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona and Georgia. This idea, which has been discussed in the halls of legislatures for years—with the National Rifle Association lobbying in favor of it—has been gaining steam since the spring of this year. Arizona’s version was signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano on April 25. Wyoming’s took effect in August.

“The House passed this bill at the end of April and the Senate followed suit and passed it in early June,” said Rep. Nitz of Michigan.

 Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who’s not necessarily a fan of measures that have NRA support, signed the bill

into law in July.

Texas and Wyoming are on the verge of passing similar legislation.

The Oct. 13 Dallas Morning News noted that State Sen. Jeff Wentworth is sponsoring this kind of legislation with co-sponsorship from State Sen. Jane Nelson.

Pennsylvania, where a recent deadly shooting spree at an Amish one-room school devastated a small community, also is strongly considering joining this trend.

So far, there is not much talk among legislators on how to truly protect schoolchildren. Many schools have adopted the modest measure of locking external doors during the school day, which is not foolproof. Some districts, such as the South Bend, Ind., Community School Corp., have armed city police officers at all, or nearly all, school buildings, at least most of the time.

In years past, when several tragic school shootings in Columbine, Colo., and elsewhere made headlines, there was talk of allowing certain school officials to take training and have an accessible firearm locked away on school property in case they’re needed.

However, school officials in a suburban Fort Worth, Tex., school district have sought the advice of trained defense experts to school kids in when to fight back against individuals who come into a school armed and looking to kill students. According to the Associated Press, Response Options has been brought in to teach kids and teachers to make as much noise as possible and to throw anything at gunmen, including desks, chairs, shoes and backpacks.

“Getting under desks and praying for rescue from professionals is not a recipe for success,” Robin Browne, a major in the British Army reserve force and an instructor for Response Options, told AP. People should “react immediately to the sight of a gun by picking up anything and everything and throwing it at the head and body of the attacker and making as much noise as possible. Go toward him as fast as [you] can and bring [the gunman] down.”

In Switzerland, the castle doctrine is an integral part of that nation’s culture; the lack of restrictions on owning and bearing arms, the citizen-based military and the nation’s strict neutrality regarding foreign policy have kept the peace for centuries with an unmistakably low crime rate.

(Issue #44, October 30, 2006)

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Updated October 21, 2006