Chapel Hill, N.C. — The idea that a man's home is his castle dates to the 18th century. In law, it is codified as the right to defend one's home from intruders without fear of being arrested. North Carolina lawmakers recently voted to expand that right.
Paul Valone, president of gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, knows guns and the Castle Doctrine. He wrote the original law currently on the books.
“The important thing to note is that Castle Doctrine is not a make my day law,” he said.
Under current state law, before homeowners can use deadly force against someone, they must have a reasonable belief that the intruder intends to kill or seriously hurt them.
Effective Dec. 1, gun owners will have less guesswork. The update to the law flips the burden of proof from the homeowner to prosecutors. If someone unlawfully crosses a homeowner’s threshold, whether there's a weapon in the intruder’s hands or not, it's automatically presumed that the person is a violent intruder.
“So, under Castle Doctrine, there’s a legal presumption that if he’s here, inside forcibly and unlawfully inside, he’s here to do me harm. And at that point, I can respond with deadly force,” Valone said.
However, there are limits in the new law. If the intruder tries to leave, the Castle Doctrine no longer applies. The bill also includes the right to defend your car and workplace, but you can't just pull a gun on anybody walking by.
“(The intruder) has to forcibly and unlawfully try to enter the vehicle,” Valone said.
Part of the law will also apply outside people’s homes – an alley, a mall, anywhere that person has a legal right to be.
Under the law, if a perpetrator runs up to someone with a bat, that person would first have to try to run away. The new law removes the duty to retreat. If the person felt the perpetrator could kill or cause harm, he or she could use deadly force, if necessary.
However, prosecutors can still argue that the threat wasn’t real.
“Castle Doctrine is not a get out of jail free card,” Valone said.
The law that updates the Castle Doctrine makes these other changes to gun laws in the state:
- District attorneys, assistant district attorneys and DA investigators can carry concealed handguns in courthouses, but not in courtrooms.
- If a person is found with a gun of any kind (open or concealed) on school property or at a school-sponsored event, they are only guilty if they knowingly brought it on campus.
- A sheriff has to either issue or deny a gun permit within 45 days, down from 90 days.
- People can carry a concealed handgun on the grounds or waters of state parks.
- People can purchase a gun in another state as long as they under go a background check for that state, including an inquiry of the National Instant Background Check System.