The idea that a man’s house is his castle dates back to 17th century common law in England.
But the so-called “Castle Doctrine” was recently expanded in North Carolina after a rare moment of bipartisanship at the N.C. General Assembly last session.
Gun rights advocates in the state lobbied for the expansion of the doctrine, which permits homeowners to defend themselves against intruders without fear of arrest.
The updates to the doctrine will take effect on Dec. 1 along with the loosening of other restrictions on gun use and carriage. Other areas where the doctrine will now apply include a person’s workplace and motor vehicle.
The new law also adds a presumption that a person who “unlawfully and forcefully” enters another person’s property intends to do serious or fatal harm to the occupants, and removes any obligation of retreat before engaging in the use of deadly force against an intruder.
“We don’t think anyone should be hampered when trying to protect themselves from some sort of violent criminal or intruder,” said Rep. Kelly Hastings, R-Cleveland and a primary sponsor of the bill.
But critics say a broad interpretation of the law could equate to a pardon for homeowners who unnecessarily use deadly force.
“It leaves an opening for folks to take advantage of situations,” said Rep. Henry Michaux, D-Durham.
Advocates counter by saying the law will not provide protection from prosecution for those who needlessly use deadly force.
“It’s important to note that the presumption is rebuttable in court,” said Paul Valone, president of the gun rights advocacy group Grass Roots N.C. “It could be argued by a district attorney, for example, that it doesn’t really apply.”
Other changes in the law extend the purview of the doctrine to areas outside the home where citizens might feel compelled to protect themselves.
The law will now apply to any area where citizens have a lawful right to be, allowing them to be immune from civil or criminal prosecution for use of deadly force if they “reasonably” believe that it is necessary to use such force to defend themselves or others.
Another part of the law protects persons from prosecution if they unknowingly carry a weapon onto school property.
Randy Young, spokesman for the University’s Department of Public Safety, said the changes in the law will not affect the way officers on campus enforce the law.
Other expansions of gun rights include permitting district attorneys, assistant district attorneys and district attorney investigators to carry guns inside courthouses but not courtrooms, shortening the time a sheriff has to respond to a gun permit request from 90 days to 45 days, allowing people to carry concealed handguns in state parks, and allowing citizens to purchase guns in other states as long as they go through that state’s own background check.
Valone said gun rights advocates are still not entirely satisfied with the changes and hope to see further expansions of gun rights in legislators’ future policy agendas.
“What we’re still looking for is restaurant carrying, allowing people to protect themselves when they take their families out to dinner,” he said.
The bill to implement those changes, House bill 111, will be considered during the next legislative session, he said.
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