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Senate Panel Kills ‘Castle Doctrine’ Bill

March 4, 2010

By Rebecca León
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A Senate committee has rejected the so-called “castle doctrine” bill, which would have provided immunity from civil prosecution if you used lethal force to defend yourself and your home.

House Bill 854 was proposed by Delegate James “Will” Morefield, a Republican from North Tazewell and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. It was struck down by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on a 9-6 party-line vote Wednesday. All of the Democrats on the panel voted to kill the bill; all of the Republicans wanted to keep it alive.

Mike McHugh, president of the Virginia Gun Owners Coalition, called the committee’s action “outrageous.”

“It reflects confusion on the part of the Democratic leadership over the issue of the right to defend yourself. They’re not in touch with the average Virginian,” McHugh said.

But Andy Goddard, president of the Richmond chapter of the Million Mom March, a campaign against gun violence, said the bill was unnecessary and “nonsensical.” He said citizens should have the right to defend themselves, but he was against expanding legal protections for killing someone.

“It would send a message that a disproportionate response is acceptable. Expanding immunities could lead to people abusing the law. Who knows what someone could do,” Goddard said.

“Someone with a score to settle could shoot someone dead in their home and claim, ‘He was trying to attack me.'”

However, McHugh said the bill would have done more good than bad.

“This bill would keep homeowners who defend themselves from being sued by the intruder. After going through a scary ordeal like that, why should you then have to go through a civil suit?” he said.

The bill initially included language to exempt homeowners from being liable in criminal court as well. However, it was amended in the House to apply only to civil actions.

The House of Delegates had approved the bill on a 75-24 vote on Feb. 16.

Virginia is one of six states that do not have any form of “castle doctrine” legislation.

HB 854 stated that: “Any person who lawfully occupies a dwelling is justified in using any degree of physical force, including deadly physical force, against another person when the other person has unlawfully entered the dwelling, having committed an overt act toward the occupant or another person in the dwelling, and the occupant reasonably believes he or another person in the dwelling is in imminent danger of bodily injury.

“Any occupant of a dwelling using physical force, including deadly physical force, as provided in this section shall be immune from civil liability for injuries or death of the other person who has unlawfully entered the dwelling that results from the use of such force.”

On the Web

Virginia Gun Owners Coalition –

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (which sponsors the Million Mom March chapters) –