Joe Biden's Shotgun Advice Could Land Jill Biden in Jail

Felony aggravated menacing, reckless endangering charges could result from shooting gun in air.

Vice President Joseph Biden delivers remarks following a roundtable discussion with law enforcement officials to discuss gun safety, Feb. 11, 2013.

Vice President Joe Biden speaks following a roundtable discussion with law enforcement officials to discuss gun safety, Feb. 11, 2013.

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Vice President Joe Biden might want to have a talk with his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, before he makes another public statement about guns.

In a Facebook "chat" Tuesday, the vice president said that he had advised his wife, Jill, to fire a shotgun in the air from their Delaware home's porch if she was concerned for her safety.

"I said, 'Jill, if there's ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out and put that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house,'" Biden said. 

"You don't need an AR-15—it's harder to aim," he added, "it's harder to use, and in fact you don't need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun! Buy a shotgun!"

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However, Delaware law would likely make his suggestion illegal—unless the shots were fired in self-defense in a truly life-threatening situation.

A sergeant with the Wilmington, Del., police department explained to U.S. News that city residents are not allowed to fire guns on their property.

The sergeant, who preferred not to be identified, said that Wilmington residents are also not allowed to shoot trespassers. "On your property you can't just shoot someone," he said. "You have to really feel that your life is being threatened."

Defense attorney John Garey—a former Delaware deputy attorney general—agreed, and added that several criminal charges might result if Jill Biden took her husband's advice.

"In Delaware you have to be in fear of your life to use deadly force," Garey said. "There's nothing based on his scenario alone" indicating a reason to fear imminent death, he noted.

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Garey said that under Biden's scenario, Jill Biden could be charged with aggravated menacing, a felony, and reckless endangering in the first degree.

"You cannot use deadly force to protect property" in Delaware, added Garey.

"It is not uncommon" for people to be charged with crimes under similar circumstances, he said. "I've seen cases where lawful citizens have used guns outside their homes and they end up arrested."

Rob Wiltbank, a gun rights advocate who founded Delaware Open Carry in 2008, told U.S. News he agrees with the vice president that a shotgun would be good for home protection, but he was also troubled by the hypothetical.

"It would be incredibly irresponsible of a gun owner to blindly discharge a firearm into the air," said Wiltbank. "What goes up, must come down and this specific behavior has been the cause of many negligent homicides over the years."

Tom Shellenberger, a lawyer who serves as a spokesman for the Delaware State Sportsmen's Association, told U.S. News that Biden's security tip was "the worst type of advice."

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"I am a member of the Delaware Bar, as is Vice President Biden," noted Shellenberger. "There are a number of statutory restrictions that could be violated by shooting a shotgun 'off the porch.'"

In addition to felony charges, Shellenberger cited the "Discharge of a firearm within 15 yards of a road (7 Del.C. § 719), a misdemeanor," and "Violation of the residential dwelling safety zone as set forth in 7 Del.C. § 723, also a misdemeanor."

"Beyond the potential criminal liability, it is simply bad advice," added Shellenberger. "Not only does blasting blindly away put innocent persons at risk, it also tells the bad guys where you are and that you are armed. In most circumstances, it might be better if that comes as a surprise to the bad guys."

The Bidens live at 1209 Barley Mill Rd. in Wilmington, according to official candidate information forms distributed in 2012 and according to real estate website Zillow.

A satellite image of the home on Google Maps, which features a scale tool, indicates that the nearest neighbor's house is approximately 100 feet away. Further away, on the other side of the home, there is a school with outside sports facilities.

U.S. News contacted the Delaware Attorney General's office for clarification on state law, but a spokesman for the office merely indicated that it is legal for residents to keep a shotgun in their homes.