Criminal Justice

Would following Joe Biden's shotgun advice break the law?

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Following Vice President Joe Biden’s advice on self-defense could land you in jail, according to the National Rifle Association.

Biden was making the point that assault weapons aren’t necessary for self-defense in a town hall chat on Facebook last week, U.S. News and the Washington Post report. Firing a shotgun from your balcony will ward off an intruder, Biden said.

Here is his advice: “If you want to protect yourself, get a double barrel shotgun. Have the shells for a 12 gauge shotgun, and I promise you, as I told my wife—we live in an area that’s wooded and somewhat secluded—I said, Jill, if there’s ever problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out, put that double-barreled shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house. I promise you whoever’s coming in is not going. You don’t need an AR15. It’s harder to aim, it’s harder to use. And in fact, you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun.”

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam tells the Post that following Biden’s advice in the vice president’s home state of Delaware could result in charges for aggravated menacing, reckless endangering and violating the hunting “safety zone” law.

The shooter would not be protected by a claim of self-defense, Arulanandam says, because Delaware follows the common law rule that any use of force must be proportional to the danger.

The law is even more restrictive in Delaware if the shooter is trying to protect against burglary or other property crimes, Arulanandam says. In such cases, the shooter can’t use deadly force unless the person attempting the property crime had employed or threatened deadly force, or the shooter believes he or another person in his presence faces a reasonable likelihood of serious physical injury.

Delaware state prosecutor Kathleen Jennings—who works for Biden’s son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden—had a different interpretation, the Post says. She points to state laws allowing deadly force to protect against death, serious physical injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse. Another law allows an occupant of a home to use force against an intruder when the encounter is “sudden and unexpected, compelling the occupant to act instantly,” or the occupant reasonably believes an intruder would inflict personal injury, or the intruder refuses the occupant’s demand to disarm and surrender.

She acknowledged, however, that “clearly you can’t just fire a gun if you are not in a self-protection scenario.”

Related coverage: “Don’t see stand-your-ground issues? Maybe you should ‘give up your bar card,’ DA says”

Updated at 9:30 AM to link to prior coverage.

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