At the urging of a gun-rights group, Virginia’s House and Senate on Wednesday rejected the so-called castle doctrine bill, which was intended to protect someone from being sued for fatally shooting an intruder.
The legislation, submitted by Del. Richard P. “Dickie” Bell (R-Staunton), was meant to shore up gun rights. But the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, concerned that it might undermine protections already established in common law, lobbied against it.
“We kind of led the effort on terminating the bill,” said league President Philip Van Cleave. “It might have been a step backward.”
The measure sought to provide civil immunity to anyone who fatally shoots an intruder in his home. The person would need to feel he was at immediate risk of serious injury or death before shooting, and the bill said the intruder would have to take an “overt act” to justify that feeling.
“Common law doesn’t spell out the need for an overt act,” Van Cleave said.
The National Rifle Association has supported castle doctrine bills in other parts of the country, Van Cleave said. But he said the legislation would not bolster rights in Virginia because state common law is already strong on that point.
“We’ve got something far better,” he said. “We’re not Florida. We’re not Massachusetts.”
Gun-rights advocates have had several victories in Richmond this year, including repeal of a 19-year-old law that capped handgun purchases at one per month. They successfully pushed a bill that strips localities of the right to require fingerprints from people applying for concealed handgun permits.
The fate of one last gun-rights bill remains uncertain as the General Assembly session draws to a close this week. A bill that would allow public employees to keep firearms in vehicles parked at work has passed both chambers and is in a conference committee, where legislators are trying to work out differences in the House and Senate version.
But gun-rights activists were unable to convince the General Assembly to lift a ban on guns in unsecured areas of airports, or to prevent public colleges from banning weapons on campus.