Critical information every gun owner should know, including:
- Where you can and cannot possess a firearm?
- When you can legally use a firearm?
- Numerous examples of how gun laws impact real lives.
- Clear explanations that separate myth from reality.
- Practical information regarding how to stay out of trouble.
- Plus much, much more...
Written by experienced attorneys in easy-to-understand language
Can I be sued if I shoot someone in self-defense?
No immunity from lawsuits
A civil lawsuit in the context of an incident involving the use of a firearm is typically a plaintiff’s attempt to secure financial compensation for injuries allegedly caused by the wrongful actions of the defendant. As we have discussed, any use of a firearm creates the possibility of civil liability, regardless of what happens with any criminal case. If a civil plaintiff alleges to have been injured as the result of the defendant’s wrongful actions in the use of a firearm, then a civil lawsuit can be filed against the defendant upon the payment of a filing fee. The filing of a civil lawsuit by the plaintiff, no matter how frivolous, must still be taken seriously and defended by the defendant. The process can take significant time, money, and legal energy, even for the most frivolous of cases. It is important to understand that the mere filing of a civil lawsuit by the plaintiff does not mean the plaintiff will succeed. The plaintiff must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence in order to win his lawsuit.
If my child gains access to my firearm, am I in trouble?
Criminal liability for allowing a minor access to firearms
Parents also need to be aware of Va. Code § 18.2-56.2, which is a criminal law that punishes those who allow children access to firearms. This statute makes it a misdemeanor criminal offense for any person to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of fourteen. A violation is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500. It is also a misdemeanor criminal offense for any person to knowingly authorize a child under the age of twelve to use a firearm except when the child is under the supervision of an adult. A violation is punishable with a maximum fine of $2,500 and incarceration of up to 12 months.
How does the Castle Doctrine Operate in Virginia?
Castle Doctrine for certain claims
The castle doctrine concept originated in England where it was said that an Englishman’s home is his castle and that if you are attacked in your own home, you need not retreat, but may stand your ground and defend yourself. Many people think that the castle doctrine means that you can legally shoot any stranger you find in your house. That is not the case in Virginia and to do so could likely be a use of excessive deadly force.
In Virginia, there is no statutory castle law that has been created by the legislature. The Supreme Court of Virginia discussed the Defense of Castle in the 1922 case of Fortune v. Commonwealth, 139 Va. 669,687 (1922), a case that did not even involve an attack inside the home.
The Virginia Supreme Court went on to explain that you are not required to retreat if assaulted in your house or on the curtilage, but you may stand your ground and use such means as are absolutely necessary to repel your assailant from your house or to prevent your attacker’s forcible entry. The curtilage of a house is the land immediately surrounding it. This is essentially an example of justifiable self-defense, which we previously discussed to mean that if you reasonably fear that you are in imminent danger of being killed or in imminent danger of great bodily harm, then you may use no more force that was reasonably necessary to protect yourself from the perceived harm under the circumstances as they appeared to you. Remember, you are actually defending yourself and your family and not merely defending your real estate. Defense of others will be discussed in the next chapter.
Can I be charged with a crime for shooting a dog before it bites me?
No general defense against animals statute
The law of self-defense and defense of others applies when defending against an animal attack. See Smith v. Commonwealth, 2013 Va. App. 29 (Va. App. Ct. 2013). We previously discussed the law of self-defense in Virginia at length in Chapter 4.
Example: Wendy the walker is taking a casual afternoon walk by herself near her home in her friendly suburban retirement community. Suddenly, a pit bull dog manages to escape its fenced property and is aggressively running toward Wendy. The dog is aggressively barking, growling, and showing its teeth as it is directly approaching Wendy in a very rapid pace with its ears pulled back. Wendy quickly starts to distance herself from the dog’s property attempting to create as much space as possible, but it is impossible to “outrun” the dog. The dog is now 2-3 seconds from Wendy’s position as she begins to frantically scream at the dog to stay away. Wendy is 65 years old, weighs 110 pounds, and legally carries a pistol with her concealed handgun permit.
What is Wendy to do? Does the dog have to actually bite Wendy before she can use deadly force to defend herself? What would you do?
Example continued: Wendy fires two quick shots at the dog at the last second based on her training from her local self-defense instructor. The dog later dies from the gunshot wound.
Was Wendy’s use of deadly force in self-defense justified? As we have said, events like this will be thoroughly investigated by the law enforcement community. If the law enforcement community believes that Wendy used excessive force, then they may charge her with a cruelty to animals or firearm offense. It would then be up to the judge or jury hearing the case to determine if Wendy’s fear was reasonable, under the circumstances as they appeared to her, that she was in imminent danger of being killed or that she was in imminent danger of great bodily harm. Also that she used no more force, under the circumstances as they appeared to her, than was reasonably necessary to protect herself from the perceived harm.