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Both Sides Say Castle Doctrine Bill Was Rushed

February 20, 2012

By Mechelle Hankerson
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Both sides in the Second Amendment debate in Virginia are looking to combat Monday’s Senate passage of House Bill 48, better known as the “Castle Doctrine.”

The bill, introduced by Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, passed the House on Feb. 9 on a 70-28 vote. On Monday afternoon, the Senate voted 24-16 to approve a slightly different version of the bill. The two chambers must resolve the wording before the bill can be sent to Gov. Bob McDonnell to be signed or vetoed.

Both the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which supports gun rights, and the Virginia Center for Public Safety, which campaigns against gun violence, said they plan to take action against Virginia’s Castle Doctrine.

VCDL President Philip Van Cleave said there were too many changes to the bill without adequate time to consider what they would mean.

“You might fix one thing and break something else,” Van Cleave said. “You’ve got to be so careful … people’s lives are on the line.” The VCDL decided to stay neutral on the various versions of the bill throughout the session.

Andrew Goddard, president at the Virginia Center for Public Safety, echoed Van Cleave and criticized lawmakers’ hasty editing of the bill during the Senate session Monday afternoon.

“It’s difficult if you spend a long time on it,” Goddard said. “It’s almost impossible on the fly.”

The VCDL is in the process of drafting a bill for next year’s General Assembly session to make sure this year’s Castle Doctrine doesn’t affect what Van Cleave considers fair and complete self-defense laws in the state.

Over the summer, Van Cleave said the organization will draft a comprehensive bill that will attempt to address and codify all self-defense common laws. He said the organization will ask for the help of lawyers and attorneys to see where there may be potential legal holes.

Van Cleave pointed out that Virginia is already a “stand-your-ground state” where citizens can defend themselves without criminal punishment if they have not done anything to warrant an attack.

“Virginia’s already got very good laws on self-defense,” Van Cleave said. “Some states desperately needed a castle doctrine … We’re a stand-your-ground state: As long as you’re not part of the problem, no matter where you are, you can stand your ground.”

Goddard also said the state’s current common law offers enough rights and protection to citizens.

“(The Castle Doctrine) has been the common law since before Virginia became Virginia,” Goddard said. “It was brought over from the U.K. It’s been the common law in Virginia since its founding, and it’s well-understood and it’s well-applied.”

“It’s a complete fabrication that we need this,” he said.

Goddard, whose son Colin survived the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, said the passage of the doctrine is the beginning of a “slippery slope.”

“These kind of bills send the wrong message,” Goddard said. “People know they can defend their homes. People don’t need the state government’s permission to defend their own home.”

The Center for Public Safety won’t be introducing any bills, but Goddard said the organization will be sending a letter to McDonnell asking him not to sign the bill into law.

Currently, 30 states have some version of the Castle Doctrine.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate voted Monday on “HB 48 Castle doctrine; self-defense and defense of others.”

Floor: 02/20/12 Senate: Passed Senate with substitute (24-Y 16-N)

YEAS – Black, Blevins, Carrico, Colgan, Garrett, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Norment, Northam, Obenshain, Petersen, Puckett, Reeves, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Vogel, Wagner, Watkins – 24.

NAYS – Barker, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Herring, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Puller, Saslaw – 16.

What the Bill Says

Here is the full text of HB 48 as passed by the House:

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 [without the permission of said occupant] , 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.

Here is the text of the bill as passed by the Senate:

Any person who lawfully occupies a dwelling is justified in using any degree of physical force, including deadly physical force, against another person when (i) the other person has unlawfully entered the dwelling and has committed an overt act toward the occupant or another person in the dwelling and (ii) 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.

This section shall not be construed to limit, withdraw, or overturn any defense or immunity already existing in statutory or common law prior to the effective date of this law.