March 8, 2012 / 5:00 AM / in 6 years

Virginia lawmakers drop home invasion self-defense bill for now

PORTSMOUTH, Virginia (Reuters) - Virginia lawmakers abandoned efforts on Wednesday to expand the right of homeowners to use deadly force against any intruders amid fierce opposition from critics, but vowed to take the issue up again next year.

The state’s Republican-led House of Delegates voted to refer the so-called “castle doctrine” measure, which would protect homeowners who kill trespassers from criminal prosecution, to committee again in the next legislative session.

Republican Delegate Richard P. Bell, a supporter of the change, said the decision to postpone the push came amid fierce opposition from critics.

The measure would have permitted deadly force against any intruder who committed an “overt act” toward the occupant or another person in the dwelling that made the occupant reasonably perceive an imminent danger of bodily injury.

It had passed both the state Senate -- evenly split between Republicans and Democrats -- as well as the Republican-led House. But lawmakers were still debating amendments.

A number of states enacted what became known as “make my day” or “stand your ground” laws in the 1980s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Laws on self defense, property and premises vary, but most states have some form of legal protection for homeowners, according to an NCSL research paper.

Opponents complained such laws harken back to the so-called “Wild West” when nearly everyone carried a gun, and were unnecessary because those they seek to protect were already protected by common law.

Democratic Delegate Scott Surovell has complained the Virginia measure would turn the state into an uncivilized society. Supporters said the law would simply codified existing case law.

Some states, such as Delaware, permit deadly force in the defense of property even when an occupant is not at risk of being harmed. Under Florida’s 2006 law, a person being attacked has no duty to retreat and can return “force with force” with immunity from criminal prosecution.

Edited by James B. Kelleher and Cynthia Johnston

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