What are Penal Codes and why should they matter to me?

If you've taken a class at Iron Defense you'll know that I reference CA Penal Codes quite often, encouraging the students to write down different codes and research them further. But I've found that these codes don't mean much unless their importance is understood. So, what are these codes that look like a math equation in Greek? (ie. §198.5) 

The Penal Codes in California are a set of codes which are organized into six parts, with different Titles, Chapters and Sections, all of which have been established to define and apply criminal law. Their significance to you lies in the fact that if you ever have to use your firearm to defend yourself, or someone in your home, how the justice system handles the case will hinge entirely on how the codes address your specific situation as they pertain to "self defense", "assault", "trespassing" etc. and how, according to the law, we can respond to different offenses. We also use these Penal Codes to explain how the law views our rights concerning our personal property and how we can defend it. We can even use these codes to understand what the law considers a "loaded" firearm when transporting it in our vehicles. We use these codes to know when lethal force is justified in the eyes of the law. And the list goes on. 

So the laws in our state (it is different for every jurisdiction) are incredibly important when it comes to looking at different crimes through the eyes of the courts. It establishes a common, fair, un-biased approach to crimes that you see everyday on the news. There have been huge court cases where I've heard comments on how the conviction didn't make sense or how the person was just "defending themselves", but when you understand the set of laws our courts are bound by it becomes more clear and it begins to paint a picture of what is deemed as lawful behavior and what isn't. 

If you want to browse through some of the Penal Codes in CA this is a great site