By Mechelle Hankerson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Proponents of a “castle doctrine” law for Virginia say it would not condone killings like the death of Trayvon Martin, the teenager gunned down by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.
Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, said he has been following the Martin case, which has prompted protests across the nation. Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman.
Florida, a Stand Your Ground state, allows citizens to retaliate with equal, even deadly, force if they feel threatened by someone, even outside their home. Zimmerman claimed Martin attacked him, which prompted him to respond in self-defense. Evidence showed that Martin was unarmed.
During the 2012 legislative session in Virginia, Bell sponsored House Bill 48, which sought to enshrine in state law the “castle doctrine” principle that if people feel threatened, they have a right to use even deadly force against an intruder in their home. Bell said there’s a big difference between his bill and Stand Your Ground laws.
“There was no intent in my bill to allow someone to use a gun outside of the confines of their home, and (the Trayvon Martin) shooting took place on the street,” Bell said. “I think there’s a reasonable expectation that you can protect yourself or your family inside your home. And because of that, I don’t think my bill was in any way similar to what happened in Florida.”
During this year’s session, HB 48 almost became law. The House and Senate each passed versions of the bill. However, a conference committee could not reach agreement over final wording.
Bell, a delegate since 2010, said he had thought the proposal would finally pass this year. He said similar legislation has been before state lawmakers for the past several years but had trouble clearing the Senate.
Since January, Republicans have controlled both the Senate and the House of Delegates.
“This year with the demographic change … I thought we had a good chance of getting it out of there,” Bell said.
Bell said he isn’t sure if he will carry another castle doctrine bill next year. He said he plans to work with Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, and speak with experts to address concerns about the measure.
“I’m not going to commit to carrying the legislation again until I see where that takes us,” Bell said. “If the outcomes are favorable and I feel at least as good about it as I did this year, then I probably will carry another bill.”
The Trayvon Martin case has opened a national dialogue not only about guns but also about race relations in America. Zimmerman is white and Hispanic, and Martin was black.
Social psychologist Ray Tademy, who last month emceed a Richmond rally in support of the Martin family, said the focus on race detracts from the legal implications of the case.
“I personally think, in trying to look at it from the perspective of race is a distraction,” he said. “The reason this is a case is because of a law that allowed an individual to literally kill someone else, not be prosecuted and go home.”
On Wednesday, Florida prosecutors announced that Zimmerman would be charged with second-degree murder. He is in custody in Florida.