The Senate Battle for Castle Doctrine

With tomorrow’s scheduled committee hearing for Castle Doctrine, things could be interesting for gun owners watching the political scene. Some gun owners mistakenly believe that since a pro-gun Governor has taken office, we face no risks from gun control and that positive legislation will pass with ease. But let’s look back at the battle for Castle Doctrine last year to get an idea of why it is urgent you call your state senator and ask for their support right now.

Last year’s battle had several hurdles that we had to jump before Castle Doctrine was sent to the Governor’s desk. In the Senate, we had time constraints because the House waited so long to act. As the clock ticked down to the close of the legislative session, support from expected allies began to fall away as poison pill amendments were drafted by opponents of the self defense reform package. Here is the summary from NRA lobbyist John Hohenwarter in an interview with another blog last fall:

The bill was passed by the House on October 5th and sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now the stage was set for a battle in the Senate and it was time to turn up the heat.

With only three days left on the Senate schedule, there were now two options available. Our office decided that the first option would be to pursue a Committee vote on HB40 and send a clean bill to the Governor’s Office. However, this option had to occur on Tuesday, October 12th of the following week because of Constitution provisions that require a bill to be considered on three different days before being voted on the floor.

NRA was assured by Republican leadership that a vote would occur in committee on Tuesday to allow a sufficient time period for legislative consideration. However, amendments were now being drafted and efforts were underway to amend HB40 in committee with anti-gun/anti-hunting provisions. In addition, Republican support to kill the amendments in committee continued to dwindle throughout the day, which created a rift among Republican members.

At the time, Republican leaders who were not on the committee opted to pursue another strategy to pass Castle Doctrine by inserting the bill language as an amendment to another crime bill. By using this path to passage, Castle Doctrine would have a vote on the Senate floor instead of coming through a committee first – a move that ensured a clean bill. Opponents of Castle Doctrine did manage to draft language for one anti-gun amendment in time for a floor vote on the Castle Doctrine package, and it was voted down by the full Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is still a potential stumbling block if gun owners don’t get involved in this debate. Senators Stewart Greenleaf and Mary Jo White are leaders of the committee, and supported the anti-gun amendment that made it to the Senate floor last year. With their support, anti-gun amendments could be attempted in committee again (and likely will be presented for discussion from anti-gun Sen. Daylin Leach). Another member of the Judiciary Committee is Sen. Vincent Hughes. We captured some of his remarks on the right to self-defense bill from last year’s debate:

In fact, based on last year’s vote to weigh Castle Doctrine down with anti-gun language, the vote of current members on the committee would likely be split. With action so early in the legislative session, gun owners should have enough time to make sure that their senators support a clean bill. However, if they don’t hear from us in Harrisburg, then our opportunity may be wasted.

Tomorrow’s step to pass Castle Doctrine is just the first of many we’ll have to take this session. As efforts to call a vote proceed, we’ll make sure to keep gun owners alerted so they can get their final phone calls in to members of the Committee & their local lawmakers.