North Carolina’s Competing Castle Doctrines

Castle Doctrine

North Carolina’s new pro-gun sets its sights on protection of the home.

In matters of home defense, residents of North Carolina have long faced an insidious and intractable foe: Our own legislature. This year, that situation looks to finally be changing following the swearing-in of a decidedly pro-gun legislature and now the introduction of three new “Castle Doctrine” bills, two of which at least look to stand a real chance of passing.

According to current North Carolina statue, should you find yourself facing the threat of injury or death at the hands of an assailant wielding a deadly weapon, then deadly force may be authorized. Lawmakers, however, would prefer that you exercise your “Duty to Retreat.” Similarly, if you are being attacked, but your assailant is not using “deadly force” (i.e. a firearm or other deadly weapons) then you currently do not have the right to use deadly force to defend yourself. The existing laws stipulate that you may only defend yourself using deadly force if deadly force is being used or about to be used against you. It’s a niggling bit of legalese that represents a significant risk to law-abiding North Carolinians. Sadly, the laws governing defense of the home are even worse.

In the State of North Carolina, the right to defend one’s home using deadly force begins and ends with an intruder’s attempt to force entry. Once an intruder succeeds in gaining entry, however, the rules change. Deadly force is no longer authorized unless the situation inside your home meets the same criteria as are applicable outside of your home. In other words, once an intruder has gained entry, you may not use deadly force to defend yourself unless you are being or are about to be assaulted with a deadly weapon. And even then, you are still legally obligated to retreat if possible. That’s right, retreat. Inside your own home. Breaking that down to real world scenarios, imagine you awake in the middle of the night to the sound of an intruder kicking in your patio door. According to North Carolina law, you may arm yourself and use deadly force to deter the intruder up until the point at which they gain entry. Once the intruder is inside the home, however, you, the homeowner, can be charged with a crime for even brandishing a deadly weapon, unless you have reason to believe the intruder represents an immediate threat to your person. I.e. is pointing a weapon at you, or attacking you.

Put even more simply: outside + coming in = OK to shoot; but inside – an immediate, deadly threat = run away. That’s a deadly bit of arithmetic under which North Carolinians have been living in fear for far too long. Luckily, it could all be finally about to change.

HB 74 and SB 34 are two competing bills currently in committee in the North Carolina General Assembly that would rewrite the statue to allow for a far broader interpretation of what constitutes the right to use deadly force. SB 34, sponsored by Representatives Brock, Berger and Harrington would repeal the existing GS 14.51.1, replacing it with stronger language allowing the use of deadly force under the presumption of imminent threat. In other words, the new bill recognizes that if the state grants you the right to apply deadly force in defense against an unlawful intrusion then it should reasonably extend that right to circumstances under which that intrusion has already occurred. Supported by the NRA-ILA, this bill would greatly strengthen the rights of North Carolinians and would represent as dramatic shift, but it’s not perfect.

HB 74 (PDF) goes further. Building on and expanding the revisions to North Carolina statue offered by SB34, this bill, sponsored by Representative Mark Hilton ( a police office), Shirley Randleman (retired Clerk of the Superior Court), George Cleveland (retired Marine), and Rayne Brown (medical social worker)and supported by Grass Roots North Carolina would, in addition to allowing for use of deadly force under the presumption of imminent threat in the home, extend that right to one’s vehicle and any shelter in which a resident has a legal right to occupy, including RVs, rented dwellings and tents. Meaning that no matter where you are, if an aggressor should forcibly invade your property, you may act. HB 74 also includes language to allow for defense against kidnapping and other felony acts and that will provide significant legal relief from civil lawsuits resulting from acceptable use of deadly force.

These changes would represent a huge shift in North Carolina’s attitude toward defense of life, limb and property and would greatly reduce the requirement that law-abiding citizens perform difficult mental calculus in an attempt to determine when deadly force is justified. Under HB 74 in other words, if it looks like a home intrusion, then it probably is a home intrusion and you may act accordingly.

While this is far from the first time North Carolina’s “Castle Doctrine” has come up for revision in the legislature, this time we look to have a real shot at getting a new bill passed. Both SB34 and HB74 are currently in committee and GRNC is reporting that SB34 is being revised to possibly reflect the stronger and more inclusive language of HB74, which would make it not only a much better bill, but even more likely to pass this session.