You may have heard that you can defend yourself in situations where you feel you are in danger, but you might be confused as to the specifics. What happens if you seriously injure or kill your assailant? What exactly does the stand your ground law mean for Pennsylvanians?

The Pennsylvania General Assembly explains that a stand your ground law exists in the state, but many residents don’t know exactly what it entails. Suppose that you are leaving a grocery store and a stranger approaches, trying to wrestle your keys away from you. While this is a terrifying situation, you don’t necessarily know if this is an attempted carjacking or kidnapping. Can you use a gun or knife to defend yourself?

The stand your ground law allows you to use force, including deadly force if necessary, to defend yourself if you reasonably believe you are in danger of serious bodily injury, abduction, sexual assault or death. However, your attacker must have a deadly weapon in possession before you can defend yourself with a weapon. As you might predict, this rule can prove tricky and unreliable. An assailant’s own hands could be deadly weapons if he has a black belt in martial arts or professional fighting experience, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that. An attacker might also use his or her vehicle as a deadly weapon. You also would have to show that you were unable to escape before being forced to defend yourself.

The law is meant to give potential victims a way to defend themselves against a violent attack, but you might find yourself needing to defend yourself in court if your attacker is injured or killed. Since this is a sensitive and complex topic, this information should not replace the advice of a lawyer.