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‘Castle Doctrine’ Bill Returns to House of Delegates - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

‘Castle Doctrine’ Bill Returns to House of Delegates

Posted: Updated: Jan 11, 2013 05:42 PM EST

A familiar piece of legislation is back before lawmakers in Richmond. The so-called "Castle Doctrine" bill - originally championed by Staunton Delegate Dickie Bell during the 2012 session - came before a House of Delegates subcommittee Friday.

The Castle Doctrine says if someone breaks into your home and threatens you, you can protect yourself with deadly force without the risk of civil liability.

The bill's patron for the 2013 session is Wytheville Delegate Anne Crockett-Stark. Bell chose not to re-file the legislation after it won him unwanted criticism and media attention in 2012. He says he became frustrated with how the legislative process turned his bill into something more foreign.

"It just kind of spun out of control," Bell said. "I ended up with a bill that was not my bill."

Two different versions of Bell's House Bill 48 passed in the House of Delegates and Senate, but legislators never reconciled the differences between them. After it died in committee at the end of 2012, he said he had already decided not to re-file the bill.

"I thought the best thing to do was just let it die," he said.

Bell championed the idea on behalf of many constituents who support the idea, but says his bill was later co-opted by groups with a different agenda. Those include numerous gun rights groups, like the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) and the Virginia Shooting Sports Association (VSSA), the official state association of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

"A lot of our membership at the VSSA has been pushing for legislation like this for years," said VSSA Legislative Committee Chairman David Adams.

"Once the gun interests get involved," Bell said, "[The Castle Doctrine] comes across as a shooting bill. It's not necessarily that."

Bell points out that not once is the word "gun" or "firearm" mentioned in the legislation.

"[Gun rights groups] were all demanding certain things that the bill didn't include," Bell said, "and it didn't seem that we could satisfy any of them."

That's part of the reason Bell has chosen not to carry the bill in 2013. Now, Crockett-Stark's House Bill 1415 will pick up where he left off.

During a debate on the House floor in February 2012, Crockett-Stark argued the bill would help protect her constituents. She cited the anecdote of an 82-year-old woman who had her home broken into in the middle of the night by a young man.

"She puts the pistol under his chin, and she said, 'do you want to eat breakfast with the devil?'" Crockett-Stark said. "He took her to court for shooting at him, and he won. We do need this bill."

Democrats argue protection already exists under Virginia common law, and any further legislation would be unnecessary. Bell disagrees.

"Unfortunately, common law is open to interpretation," he said.

Though he thinks the bill stands a chance of making it through the legislature this year, he's happy not to carry it.

"I'm just not going to keep putting legislation out there so they can pick it apart and find fault with it," he said.

The bill will come back before a House subcommittee next week.

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