Wednesday, January 4, 2012

VA-ALERT: A look at the General Assembly and at the Castle Doctrine

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The General Assembly session is rapidly approaching and VA-ALERT is going to get very active - so be prepared!

The General Assembly session, as I say every year at this time, is where the rubber meets the road. This is where a lot of hopes and dreams for a better Virginia can come to fruition. And this is where we make sure that our right to keep and bear arms is protected from those who spit on Lady Liberty.

During the next 8 weeks or so it is going to be important that you monitor your email for VA-ALERT messages. Some of those alerts will simply be updating you on the status of gun bills as they move through the General Assembly. But others will require you to take immediate action - such as clicking on a link provided in the alert to send a message to your legislators. You may also be asked to call your legislators (more effective than emails). Flooding the General Assembly with messages from constituents about gun bills is where VCDL gets its power.

As long as you are doing your part, VCDL will continue to be a strong presence. So, please, don't skip sending those emails or making those phone calls this session and hope that others will cover you. We need all of you to do your part by sending pre-written, or even customized, messages to your legislators when VCDL determines the time is right. We make the process quick and easy for you.

You will be able to follow all the gun bills easily on the VCDL web site using the VCDL 2012 Legislative Tracking Tool, which will be available around the time that the General Assembly session starts.


The "Castle Doctrine" debate continues to heat up around the country and also here in Virginia. The Castle Doctrine basically says that a person has the right to defend themselves while in their own home (castle) and provides them special protections should they have to exercise that right.

Virginia's self-defense laws are based on common law developed in case law over the last several hundred years. We have pretty good coverage for self-defense here in Virginia currently (many states who celebrated getting a Castle Doctrine law were not so lucky and desperately needed to improve their laws).

Here is a summary of the current self-defense law in Virginia:

Virginia is a stand-your-ground state. But not just in your "castle," but EVERYWHERE you might be. As long as you are not "part of the problem," you can stand your ground and defend yourself. If you end up killing your assailant, it is considered a "justifiable homicide." If you are part of the problem, say you yelled an expletive at someone who cut you off in traffic, and you are attacked, then you must retreat as far as you can, indicate you have given up the fight, and only if the assailant keeps up the attack, may you defend yourself. In that case if the assailant dies, it is considered an "excusable homicide." Also, you can only use deadly force to protect yourself or others when you reasonably fear death OR grievous bodily injury. You CANNOT use deadly force to protect property or against a trespasser.

You might wonder why you have to retreat if you are part of the problem. That's to prevent someone intentionally murdering someone else and claiming self-defense. Let's say that John wanted to murder Jim. John could get a gun, keep it hidden and antagonize the hell out of Jim to the point that Jim might pickup something to attack John out of frustration or anger. John could then shoot Jim claiming "self-defense" since Jim had come at him with a baseball bat.

Problem is that John had intentionally set up Jim to be murdered. By requiring the co-aggressor to retreat, the Commonwealth is trying to eliminate such a scenario.

The push is to change the above into an actual hard-coded law. And that can be very tricky.

Previous attempts to pass a Castle Doctrine bill have mostly centered around protecting someone in a dwelling from being sued if they have to defend themselves. The problem is that no one is being sued for such a thing. Why? Because lawyers would generally do that on contingency, most likely will lose the case under Virginia law, and they will then lose their investment. So there is no monetary incentive for lawyers to "ambulance chase" legitimate self-defense cases.

An all-encompassing Castle Doctrine bill has been hashed around by the battery of lawyers who volunteer their time to VCDL. The bottom line is that it is hard to draft such a bill in a way that doesn't goof up our current legal protections. In that case we are better to do nothing than to make current law worse.

Senator-elect Dick Black has been working with VCDL to draft a solid Castle Doctrine bill for the last couple of weeks. After much time spent going back and forth, Dick and I concluded that the best way to do a Castle Doctrine bill correctly is as follows:

1. Draft a solid bill and put it on the VCDL website
2. Encourage prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, Delegates, Senators, and any other legal professional to look at the bill and try to shoot holes in it
3. Correct the daft for any found deficiencies and repost to the VCDL website
4. In the fall of 2012, prepare the final, fully vetted bill to be drafted by Legislative Services and pre-filed for the 2013 General Assembly session

There are going to be some Castle Doctrine bills put in by others. VCDL will support them, or stay neutral, as long as the bills do no harm. If they do have the potential to harm our current protections, then we will oppose them.


Plan to attend VCDL Lobby Day on Monday, January 16th, starting between 8:30 AM and 9:00 AM at the General Assembly in Richmond (SE corner of 9th and Broad streets). We will be lobbying in groups and there will be a rally at 11 AM.

***This year in particular, we need a big turnout*** I'm already seeing some softness in the Republican leadership's interest in making significant improvements in Virginia's gun laws. I hope that I am misreading them - we'll know soon enough.

We really need to make it crystal clear to our legislators and their leadership - we put them in office to move our gun rights forward. We are NOT interested in a wishy-washy push of the status quo.


VCDL put together three tables that show the make up of the Senate and House by NRA grade. The Republican leadership should be bolstered by these numbers and certainly not get weak kneed.

The Senate has 21 "A" and "B" rated Senators (2 of which are Democrats) and 16 "D" and "F" rated Senators (all Democrats). AND we should have Lt. Governor Bill Bolling's vote in the case of a 20-20 tie. The House has 69 "A" and "B" rated Delegates (5 of which are Democrats and 1 is an independent) and 25 "D" and "F" rated Delegates (1 of which is a Republican).

In both the House and the Senate, ALL the "F" rated freedom haters are Democrats. The VAST majority of freedom supporters in both Houses are Republican. That's a really sorry showing for the Democrats and demonstrates that they are way out of the mainstream when it comes to guns.


VA-ALERT is a project of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, Inc.
(VCDL). VCDL is an all-volunteer, non-partisan grassroots organization
dedicated to defending the human rights of all Virginians. The Right to
Keep and Bear Arms is a fundamental human right.

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