Changing Firearms Laws in Adjacent States

The Aurora, Colorado shooting in June 2012 brought the gun control debate back to the national stage. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary moved the debate into high gear. Pennsylvania’s unique geographic position between the Mid Atlantic States and the East Coast puts Pennsylvania citizens in a uniquely complicated situation.

Specific state laws regarding travel with firearms must always be specifically addressed before travelling. The four primary states surrounding Pennsylvania can be divided into two groups. Ohio and West Virginia share a roughly similar structure to Pennsylvania regarding the transport and possession of firearms. New York and New Jersey employ far more restrictive controls. New York’s passage of a sweeping new ‘assault weapons’ ban on January 15, 2013, however, significantly altered the legal limitations and penalties in the Empire State.

In Simple Terms:

 Ohio & West Virginia:

  • no permit or registration needed for firearms purchases
  • national age standards of 18 for long guns and 21 for handguns is followed
  • no assault weapons ban (though Ohio restricts magazines above 31 round limit)
  • concealed carry permits are “shall issue,” though Ohio requires a safety course
  • allow open carry (with some restrictions)

Key Points (Ohio & West Virginia):

  • Both states have full state preemption for firearms laws. This means that the laws are uniform across the state and much easier and safer to comply with.
  • West Virginia has full reciprocity with Pennsylvania for concealed carry permit holders.
  • Ohio does not recognize Pennsylvania carry permits.

New York & New Jersey:

  • Permit for handgun purchase in NY, permit & registration required in NYC
  • NJ requires firearm owner ID for all purchases & permit for handgun purchase
  • both states have ‘assault weapons’ bans, strictly restricting the purchase, possession, transfer and transport of certain firearms and components
  • both states are “may issue” states for concealed carry permits, and neither recognizes any reciprocity with Pennsylvania

 Key points (New York & New Jersey):

  • Neither NY nor NJ have state preemption for firearms laws, so those laws may differ greatly in different parts of the state
  • Neither state will recognize a Pennsylvania CCP
  • Neither state fully recognizes federal peaceable journey statutes

What Does This Mean for Me?

If you are a Pennsylvania resident, there are some simple precautions you should take when travelling with firearms. Always be aware that having a firearm available to you while in a vehicle is regarded as “carrying” in most jurisdictions. Whenever possible, having firearms and ammunition secured separately and out of reach of the vehicle’s occupants is always best and often legally required. In a vehicle lacking a separated trunk, such as a minivan or SUV, the firearm and ammunition must be held in separate and locked containers, not including the console or glove box. Only West Virginia recognizes the Pennsylvania carry permit, and requires anyone carrying a firearm to notify law enforcement when stopped and to keep their hands in plain sight at all times. That may seem like common sense, but abiding the minor rules when visiting another state goes a long way to a friendly meeting with the authorities.

The most significant concern for most Pennsylvanians travelling with firearms will be NY & NJ providing exemptions to the peaceable journey statutes. Those statutes are meant to allow law-abiding citizens to travel legally, so long as the firearms in their possession are legal at both ends of their journey. NY and NJ do not recognize this statute for items contained under their state restrictions. If an item is legal in PA, it may still lead to legal charges if brought into NY or NJ. As both states have varying firearms laws in different cities and counties, the potential for legal danger is considerable.

The new NY ‘assault weapon’ ban adds several items to the list of banned items, beyond the predictable list of rifles. All magazines over a 10 round capacity are banned, and even those must carry no more than 7 rounds at a time. The ban is based upon the physical characteristics of a firearm, but NY went further, and banned the possession of any collection of parts which, assembled differently, could violate the ban. Similarly, regions of New Jersey ban magazines of certain capacities, as well as hollow point ammunition.

As always, if you need to transport a firearm through any of these regions, check the route carefully and call ahead to assure that you are complying with local laws to avoid any hassles.

 Text of New York ‘Assault Weapons’ Ban:

 Text of New Jersey ‘Assault Weapons’ Ban:

 Gun laws are in a state of flux. In these times, be sure to seek legal advice and guidance before taking a firearm into a neighboring state.

 Stay tuned to Elliott & Davis, PC for updates on the changes in firearms law as described by our attorneys.  Our full service firm can assist you most firearms related matters, including gun trusts, self-defense cases, appeals of denials for CCPs, etc.

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Personal Injury Series by Attorney Todd Elliott || Part 1: Head Injuries

Todd Elliott, Esq.

Todd Elliott, Esq.

At Res Ipsa Blogger, we’re excited to announce our newest series of personal injury articles from Attorney Todd Elliott, the head of our litigation section here at E&D. Please check back frequently for new articles from this exciting series about personal injury law. 

Attorney Todd Elliott is a member of the Brain Injury Association and receives updates concerning the newest treatments available for TBIs.

As always, our firm offers a free consultation for personal injury (including highway and work injuries), breach of contract, and construction law cases.

Please contact Attorney Todd Elliott at any time time at:  412.434.4911 x18


We hope you’re enjoying the warming weather, being active outside and also safe. 

Our 14 lawyer Pittsburgh firm litigates — and thus sees firsthand — the profound consequences of head injuries from slip and falls, car and motorcycle accidents and more.    Our success in Pennsylvania impels us to give back and share with you information about how to prevent or mitigate serious injuries in the future.  Such injuries are often referred to as traumatic brain injuries (“TBIs”), which may result in loss of memory, impaired mental function, speech problems, erratic changes in sex drive, and even death.


Every head injury should be taken seriously.  You may have heard about Natasha Richardson, the wife of actor Liam Neeson.  She fell during a ski lesson for beginners in Canada.  Although her head came in contact with the ground, she remained lucid afterward.  In fact, she was able to speak, talk, and act normally.  She refused medical treatment twice but experienced a head ache within three hours of the fall.   She died the next day; the cause: “epidural hematoma due to blunt impact to the head.”

She had not been wearing a helmet while skiing.

Any “bump” on the head can cause internal bleeding and a cascade of events that – over a few hours – can lead to permanent brain damage, including loss of memory, loss of mental function, speech impairment, and even death.  The most common cause of head injuries is falls, followed by vehicle and other accidents as other leading causes.

We also see serious TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries) in the context of automobile, trucking, and motorcycle accidents.  Early medical evaluation is crucial.

You can help avoid or mitigate a head injury by:

1. Wearing a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle.

2. Going to the emergency room (or Med Express at least) if you have sustained any kind of impact to your head causing any symptoms such as: a head ache, blurred vision, or inability to focus or concentrate.

3. Wearing a helmet and making sure your children wear helmets when:

  • Riding a bike, motorcycle, scooter, or all-terrain vehicle;
  • Playing a contact sport, such as football, ice hockey, or boxing;
  • Using in-line skates or riding a skateboard;
  • Batting and running bases in baseball or softball, or
  • Riding a horse.

4. Making living areas safer, by:

  • Removing tripping hazards such as throw rugs and clutter in walkways;
  • Making sure that your deck can support the number of people invited to any party at your location; and
  • Using lawn furniture that is sturdy and positioned in an uncluttered yard or deck.

5. Making living areas safer for children, by:

  • Installing window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows; and
  • Using safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around.

6. Making sure the surface on your child’s playground is made of shock-absorbing material, such as hardwood mulch or sand.

7. If you have any home renovation done this spring (a new driveway, deck, pool, roof, or other renovation), keep the walkways clear and free from debris.  As the renovation takes on a life of its own, you will be tempted to cut corners when juggling the responsibilities of overseeing a contractor, but be alert.  It is not uncommon for home owners, and their children (and even pets) to get injured during the performance of home renovations.

8. Make sure you carry adequate disability (loss of wages) insurance, which covers lost wages in the event you are incapacitated, which is often the case with head injuries as those may involve long periods of rehabilitation in the form of speech therapy and cognitive therapy/rehab.  In the case of vehicle accidents, your vehicle  policy (car/motorcycle) will not necessarily cover your claim for lost income. Yes, you may sue the other driver if that person is at fault, but what if you are at fault?  And what if you are involved a single vehicle accident from wet or icy streets for example?  Read your policy carefully; it may be woefully inadequate to cover for lost wages.  Likewise, if you slip and fall on your own property, you will bear the brunt of your claim for lost wages and there will be little if any coverage for your medical expenses or lost wages.  Do not assume you will get government assistance.  You should always consider carrying a separate disability policy that covers you for lost wages from an accident.


Stay tuned for our upcoming articles on the topics of: 

  • What to do when you’re involved in a motor vehicle accident (and how to prepare for it), and

  • What do if you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog (and how to prepare the that eventuality). 


Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The whole world is watching the United States Congress to see what type of new comprehensive immigration law emerges.

In the interim, let’s take a look at recent change to the law, which may not amount to comprehensive reform, but it is worth noting.


Rule Changes – Federal Register Notification

Immigrants with spouses, children and parents in the U.S. may not have to wait much longer to get their much sought-after green cards, thanks to a new change in immigration policy.

On January 2, 2013, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano described the posting of a final rule in the Federal Register. This will reduce the time U.S. citizens are separated from their spouses, children and parents on waiting lists for permanent citizenship in certain cases.

This took effect in March. Pursuant to this final rule change, those family members of U.S. citizens looking to live in the United States may apply for provisional waivers prior to heading into the country to attend immigrant visa interviews that would help legalize their status. The way this works is, the waiver helps applying immigrants dodge serious penalties for being in the U.S. without documentation during her application process, according to Secretary Napolitano. However, rationale beneath the new rule is to reduce the pain of long separations that face U.S. citizens waiting for loved ones on the other side to be allowed into the country and be reunified.

“The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Mayorkas indicated in a declaration. “The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon.”

Pursuant to the rule pre-March of 2013, undocumented immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to leave the country and get an immigrant visa abroad as part of the green card process. Under that same rule, those who have been in the country unauthorized for more than six months must obtain a waiver before leaving the country in order to obtain an immigrant visa.

Moreover, an immigrant who returned to the USA illegally could be barred from re-entering for several years.

Even with an adjustment to the current regulations, immediate relatives must still leave the as part of the application process; however, they can apply for a provisional waiver before they depart for their immigrant visa interview abroad.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Statistics provide that approximately 25,000 immigrants seek family unity waivers annually in the USA; eighty-eight percent of those were approved in 2012; 84 percent in the year 2011.

Immigration reform has been talked about for decades. Former President George Bush proposed immigration reform, unsuccessfully. Then, immigration reform was promised during President Obama’s election as President of the United States in 2008. Since then, President has blamed changes in the economy and disagreements with Congress for not proposing comprehensive immigration reform during his first term. This issue re-emerged to the forefront of the national debate during President’s bid for reelection in November of 2012. President Obama has promised to make good on his early pledge to make changes to the process surrounding immigration and Republicans indicating a more willing stance to work for such changes.

Some immigration reform advocates support the March 2013 rule change.

“(We) are pleased that the Obama administration is using its authority to keep families together and we look forward to more leadership as we embark on the long term solution of immigration reform,” Kica Matos, Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice for the Center for Community Change, indicated to Fox News.

Our Pittsburgh lawyers practice immigration nationwide and offer a free consultation over the phone or in person.

Stay tuned to Elliott & Davis, PC for updates on the changes in immigration law as described by our attorneys.

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The Roundup on NFL Lawsuits

We Pittsburghers love our Steelers. But with all of the NFL lawsuits recently popping up in the news, the tensions between players and the League are making themselves apparent.

Here’s a brief synopsis of what’s been going on in the land where football and the law meet.

“The Anti-Collusion Lawsuit”: On May 23, the NFL Players Association filed a complaint against the NFL, charging them with collusion. Collusion is a secret agreement between or among people created to deceive or defraud others. The alleged agreement here was one among team owners in 2010 (an uncapped year) to fix a salary cap of $123 million per franchise. But the NFLPA might have a tough time getting this suit off the ground. The NFL will likely argue that Article 3, Section 3 of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement specifically prohibits the NFLPA from suing for collusion in respect to any year before 2011. If the court agrees with this interpretation of the contract language, that will be the end of the road for the NFLPA.

Here’s the text of Article 3, Section 3 of the Bargaining Agreement: “The NFLPA on behalf of itself, its members, and their respective heirs, executors, administrators, representatives, agents, successors and assigns, releases and covenants not to sue, or to support financially or administratively, or voluntarily provide testimony of any kind, including by declaration or affidavit in, any suit or proceeding…against the NFL or any NFL Club or any NFL Affiliate with respect to any antitrust or other claim asserted in White v. NFL or Brady v. NFL, including, without limitation, any claim relating to the 2011 lockout, any restrictions on free agency, any franchise player designations, any transition player designations, the Draft, the Entering Player Pool, the Rookie Compensation Pool, Total Revenues (“TR”) or television rights fees with respect to any League Year prior to 2011, collusion with respect to any League Year prior to 2011, or any claim that could have been asserted in White or Brady related to any other term or condition of employment with respect to conduct occurring prior to the execution of this Agreement. For purposes of clarity, this release does not cover any claim of any retired player.”

“The NFL Head Injury Lawsuit”: Last Thursday, over 2,400 former NFL players in 89 lawsuits were named as plaintiffs in one giant complaint that summarizes their grievances against the NFL, NFL Properties (which handles NFL merchandising and licensing) and Riddell, the manufacturer of NFL helmets. All of the claims concern NFL players who suffered some type of head injury on the field. Studies that go back to 2005 show that players who experienced more than one concussion can face some very serious complications, which range from depression to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The plaintiffs are tasked with proving that the NFL tried to disprove the studies and withhold information from players that would warn them of possible long-term risks from both playing football and sustaining multiple concussions. The defendants will likely respond with a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The way this case plays out may have implications for other sports, and it will be interesting to see if athletes in other leagues, such as the NHL (Pittsburgh Penguins fans remember the concussion that sidelined star Sidney Crosby for most of last season), file similar suits.

With two massive lawsuits staring them down, there is at least some good news for the NFL’s pockets. A few days ago, a federal District Court judge dismissed the “NFL Image Lawsuit”: three retired NFL players – Gene Washington, Sean Lumpkin, and Diron Talbert – sued the NFL for constraining the use of their images and likenesses. Basically, the plaintiffs claimed that the NFL violated antitrust laws because, by using old game footage of the retired players for promotional material, they monopolize the market for the players’ likenesses while simultaneously prohibiting the players from using their identities to promote themselves commercially.

But the judge could not find any evidence that such a market existed. The footage displayed the players in NFL logos and on fields covered in NFL marks; none of the images displayed an individual player that was not surrounded by such NFL insignia. So, since the market that does exist is not one that prohibits a player from using his own likeness, the judge found the plaintiffs’ claim to be baseless.

At this point, the biggest challenge to the NFL is coming from the head injury lawsuit. We’ll see what happens as that case progresses, but, even in its early stages, it looks like the NFL needs to find something to block itself from the plaintiffs’ store of ammunition.

The NYC Soda Ban From a Legal Perspective

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has taken both praise and heat for his latest move in his campaign against obesity: a ban on the sale of large (more than 16 oz.) sugary drinks from public venues like restaurants, delis, movie theaters, and food stands.

Mayor Bloomberg

Proponents of Bloomberg’s initiative hail this maneuver as a way to publicize the obesity problem in America. Even if the bill does not pass, it will at least raise awareness that our country needs to take strides toward better health. However, those against the bill – namely, large corporations that rely on soda distribution for income (like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s), small business owners, and organizations such as the Center for Consumer Freedom – believe that Bloomberg is acting more like a nanny and less like a political leader.

But can anyone actually take Bloomberg to court over this? At this point, it looks like the legal arguments are lacking. According to Michelle Mello, a Harvard professor of law and public health, there are many states that impose standards on consumer products sold within their borders. In light of this precedent, it would appear too difficult to prove that New York had somehow exceeded its powers in this instance. Furthermore, Bloomberg’s prior health initiatives, like the ban on smoking inside bars, the requirement that chain restaurants post calorie counts on their menus, and a restaurant’s obligation to place its health grade in plain sight for patrons and passersby, each survived challenges to their respective legality. This track record does not bode well for a similar legal confrontation against the soda ban.

Even so, legal experts are saying that there are two routes that soda ban challengers can take: they can claim that the new legislation has no rational basis (i.e., that New York has exceeded the powers granted to it), and/or that the legislation violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

On the rational basis route, a challenger can say that the legislation has no reasonable connection to a legitimate and constitutionally sound objective. But Bloomberg and Co. can argue that protecting the public health is a legitimate interest and, if they can prove that the ban would lower consumption of soft drinks and consequently reduce obesity among New Yorkers, the opposition would not be left with much room for argument. But there is a loophole: if large sodas can still be purchased at venues like grocery stores, or if the purchase of two 16 oz. sodas at a movie theater or restaurant can still occur, will there really be much change in soda consumption?

If challengers wanted to take the Commerce Clause (see Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of our Constitution) route, they would have to prove that the ban interferes with U.S. interstate commerce. Interstate commerce is defined as the free exchange of commodities among citizens of different states across state lines, and soda industry representatives could argue that the soda ban unduly harms producers that ship soda syrup and cups from other states into New York.

What do you think about Pennsylvania legislators introducing a law like this in our state? Is there really a way that it can better public health? We have already followed Mayor Bloomberg’s lead concerning smoking bans in restaurants – do you think that a soda ban can garner the same public support?

Intellectual Property Protection and Innovation

There’s an interesting tension at play in intellectual property (IP) law and policy.  On the one hand, strong IP protection can be useful because it’s thought that a person’s ability to reap the economic benefits of his creation will help spur further innovation. But on the other hand, strong IP protection can sometimes stifle the ability for the public to use others’ creations as models for more developments and advances.

A recent New York Times article stresses that this ever-present policy battle has fallen too far in favor of broad intellectual property protection, a trend highlighted by the growing number of lawsuits copyright and patent owners file against alleged infringers.

In the copyright realm, song copyright holders vigorously sue those who sample one of their protected songs without permission. The Times article mentions the recent claim made by TufAmerica (a label record) against the Beastie Boys that claimed the latter infringed a number of the go-go band Trouble Funk’s songs. Sampling in rap has historically been an important component of the genre, and the Beastie Boys case is not the first. In 2005, a battle occurred over rap group N.W.A.’s unlicensed use of George Clinton’s “Get Off Your Ass and Jam” in their song “100 Miles and Runnin’”. While N.W.A. used only about two seconds of Clinton’s song, the Court held that the small sample size does not matter: get a license, or do not sample at all.

Other suits have come about over more general infringement claims, like when George Harrison lost his case against Bright Tunes Music Corporation, another music label. In that case, the court held that Harrison “subconsciously plagiarized” the Chiffon’s song “He’s So Fine” in his first solo song “My Sweet Lord.” Several artists have also bombarded Coldplay with claims alleging that the band ripped off their songs, with most accusers targeting “Viva la Vida”.

Patent litigation has been just as, if not more, prevalent than copyright litigation. As the Times article notes, proprietors of smart-phone technology such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google are suing each other over patents to compel license fee payments and force the opponent to eliminate certain phone features, the end goal being to push the competitor out of the market.

Apple even has a patent over applications based on a user’s location. While it already appears overly broad, if Apple decides to enforce this patent against Google and other companies that employ this technology, the repercussions are huge: Apple gains a monopoly over that particular market and an entire group of innovators that could better or create a spin-off of this technology for consumers are now left out of the loop.

History has shown us that IP protection is essential to promote R&D investment.  The technologies that make our lives better are the result of an outpouring of time and money.  These investments would be much riskier if competitors were free to appropriate the resulting technology.

But the recent pattern of litigious behavior on the part of IP rightholders can only breed apprehension among those who want to build on the ideas of others.

What are your thoughts on strong IP protection? Is it essential to our economy, or do you think it stifles the innovation it actually seeks to promote?

Facebook’s IPO and Family Law

While Facebook’s recent IPO looks like a flop, the same can’t be said of company founder Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to marry. Zuckerberg wed his college girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, last Saturday, May 19, a day after the IPO, and California family lawyers believe that this arrangement is more than happenstance.

First, if Zuckerberg and Chan never married and continued to live together as boyfriend and girlfriend, upon a breakup Chan could potentially claim that an agreement existed to pool finances. If a court found that such an agreement existed, Zuckerberg’s $20 billion fortune would be at risk.

Second, when a couple decides to divorce, California courts follow the community property regime. This doctrine holds that any property created during a marriage is community property, and should be split evenly after divorce. Only a small number of states, including California, Nevada, Idaho, and Texas, abide by this regime if there is no prenuptial agreement that waives community property rights. In most states, equitable division rules reign: the property acquired during marriage is not divided fifty-fifty, but distributed to each spouse according to what a judge deems fair.

Considering Zuckerberg’s wealth, he and Chan likely signed a prenuptial agreement before marriage that would set out the division of the couple’s assets in the event of a divorce. If the two waived community property rights, Chan would have no claim to Zuckerberg’s holdings in Facebook stock that vest during marriage, nor would she be able to go after Zuckerberg’s previously-held stock if it increased in value during the union.

Pennsylvania follows equitable division rules, and the relevant statute can be found here. In deciding how a married couple’s assets are to be distributed upon divorce, the court considers a number of factors, including the length of the marriage, prior marriages of either party, the age and health of each party, the opportunity for each party to acquire future capital assets and income, the current sources of both parties’ income, and the standard of living of the parties established during marriage. In consideration of these factors, the court does not take into account any alleged marital misconduct.

Both the community property and equitable division regimes are supported by valid policy reasons. The community property doctrine is more administrable, as its simple fifty-fifty rule decreases the possibility that a judge unfairly prejudices one party. But, while the equitable division doctrine seems more complex in its factor-weighing approach, is it fair for a non-working party to receive half the assets acquired by the breadwinning party during marriage?

Trayvon Martin, Stand Your Ground, and the Law of Self-Defense in Pennsylvania

In the past few months, the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin has raised a number of legal issues. One of the most discussed is the value of Stand Your Ground laws. In essence, a Stand Your Ground law allows you to use force in self-defense when there’s a reasonable threat of another using that level of force against you—without you having to retreat first.

Stand Your Ground laws replace the historical “duty to retreat” principle and supplement its exception, the Castle Doctrine. The “duty to retreat” principle requires you to first try to retreat from an attack, but, if retreat proves impossible or dangerous, self-defense becomes a legally justified option. The Castle Doctrine generally holds that, on your own property, there is no legal penalty when you use force against a person whom you reasonably think will inflict serious bodily harm or death to you or others located on that property.

Because of the public uproar over George Zimmerman’s reliance on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Governor Rick Scott appointed a task force to examine it and the state’s other gun laws. Florida enacted its Stand Your Ground law in 2005 in response to the NRA-led campaign to put these laws on state statute books. The NRA continued to find success in other states – PA became the 27th state to adopt a version of the law in June 2011. Some key features of our law, found under Title 18, Chapter 5, §505 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, are as follows:

  • You are allowed to use force against another person when you believe it is immediately necessary in order to protect yourself against the use of force by that other person.
  • However, the use of force is not justifiable if:
  •           You are resisting arrest by a peace officer, although the arrest is unlawful.
  •           You are resisting force by an occupier of property who is using force to protect that property.
  • The use of deadly force is not justifiable if:
  •           You do not believe that such force is necessary to protect yourself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat.
  •           If you provoke the use of force by another with the intent of causing death or serious bodily injury.
  •           You can avoid the use of such force with complete safety by retreating (the “duty to retreat” principle)  unless you are in your dwelling or place of work (the Castle Doctrine).
  • And the Stand Your Ground additions: If you are not engaged in a criminal activity, are not in illegal possession of a firearm, and are attacked in any place where you would have a duty to retreat, you have no duty to retreat and the right to stand your ground and use force, including deadly force, if:
  •           You have a right to be in the place you were attacked.
  •           You believe it is immediately necessary to use force to protect yourself against death, serious bodily injury,  kidnapping, or sexual intercourse by force or threat.
  •           The person against whom you use force displays or uses a firearm, a replica of a firearm, or any other weapon  readily or apparently capable of lethal use.

Pennsylvania’s law is similar to the Florida statute. However, last month House Judiciary Committee Counsel David McGlaughlin stated that, in Pennsylvania, a shooter like George Zimmerman would likely have been immediately arrested.

Why? See the second and third bullet points of the Stand Your Ground additions to the statute, relayed above: according to some accounts, Zimmerman pursued Trayvon although told not to by the 911 dispatcher, and Trayvon was unarmed.

But does our stricter law still justify the increased violence it condones?

If you’ve turned on a TV lately, you already know that there’s no shortage of debate that can be had on this point.

In any case, the ongoing criminal proceedings and media analysis may serve not only as a trial for Zimmerman but as a referendum on Florida’s—and perhaps the rest of the country’s—laws regarding self defense.

Learning Opportunity This Friday

On Friday, April 27, at 9:00 am, Elliott & Davis will be hosting Grant Writing 201: Winning Grants in Southwestern PA with Eric Davis, Owner Procopio Fundraising and Managing Partner, Elliott & Davis, PC.

Grant seeking in Southwestern Pennsylvania has never been more competitive than today. With information on grant opportunities so broadly available, most grant making foundations and agencies receive hundreds more worthy grant proposals for each funding cycle than they could ever fund. It is critically important that nonprofit organizations to learn how to set themselves apart by preparing winning grant applications.  Give your proposals the competitive edge of a serious grant seeker. If you’re ready to get serious about grant writing, invest a day honing your skills with proven techniques for generating support.

Here are the details on the event.  Please consider attending and sharing this information with others.  Seats are still available.

Kony 2012, Charitable Giving, and Your Estate Plan

Kony 2012 is the flavour du jour. We all know its basic premise: to make Joseph Kony, the corrupt leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group once present in Uganda, famous. If Kony becomes enough of a talking point, especially in Washington, it could bring about more U.S. involvement in the campaign for his capture and prosecution before the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.

The Kony 2012 video, with almost 100,000,000 hits on YouTube, sends a powerful message. By its end, it’s hard to fight the urge to dig deep into your pockets and donate to the Kony cause. However, this Forbes article from the beginning of March can make you think twice about more than just giving fifty bucks to the movement – it considers the implications of including charitable contributions as part of your estate plan.

The article notes the immediate backlash concerning the legitimacy of the video’s efforts. There’s been questioning of Invisible Children’s (the NGO behind the video) spending tactics, support of military action, and neo-colonial approach to the issue. To make things worse, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell got in trouble with the law mere weeks after the Kony 2012 video went viral. How can you support a movement when one of its main proponents seems unable to handle himself, let alone the logistics of the campaign?

The Forbes article also mentions Charity Navigator and GuideStar, two websites that, using respective sets of criteria, help you evaluate what charitable programs are most worthwhile to contribute to. One key aspect of Charity Navigator is its reporting of an organization’s financial performance metrics and accountability/transparency metrics. Once established, Charity Navigator uses these numbers to rate the organization on a 70-point scale. GuideStar also lists data reflecting a charity’s finances, but includes other information, such as IRS documentation and leader biographies. Both sites require registration to access all material.

Here are some other ideas on how to ensure that you are making the right choice when it comes to picking a charity to include in your estate, and some guidance on how to incorporate these donations into your estate plan.

First, when it comes to selecting a charity it’s important to look beneath the surface and make an informed decision.  As the Kony 2012 story indicates, nonprofit websites and glossy fundraising brochures often hide stark facts that might make donors nervous.  Ratings systems, such as the ones mentioned above, are a great way for donors to dig deeper.

Another way to do this is to look directly at an organization’s IRS filings. The IRS recently increased filing requirements for nonprofits, requiring more organizations to file 990 forms.  These forms filed with the IRS are public record and give donors greater access to important funding-related considerations such as the organization’s mission statement, financial information, and information on the board of directors.

Our Nonprofit practice works with a variety of nonprofit organizations and private foundations on issues ranging from entity formation and obtaining 501(c)(3) status to nonprofit governance and due diligence on behalf of foundations.

Second—regardless of whether your estate plan includes charitable donations—it’s incredibly important to have well-contemplated estate planning documents in place.

As part of our Estates & Trusts practice, we work with clients to create wills, trusts for children, durable powers of attorney, and advanced directives.  We meet with clients to discuss their particular needs, answering any questions they might have about planning for incapacity and death, drafting appropriate estate planning documents, and executing those documents.  Basically, we handle everything necessary to get your affairs in order.

Please visit our website at for more information.