A bill that would expand the circumstances under which you can shoot someone in self-defense is closer to becoming law.
Senate Bill 34, known as the Castle Doctrine, passed the state Senate Monday night by a vote of 35-13. Voting against the measure were Democrats Bob Atwater of Chatham County, Ellie Kinnaird of Orange County, Floyd McKissick of Durham County and Josh Stein and Dan Blue, who represent Wake County.
It heads to the House for further debate.
Spurred by the Republican takeover of the N.C. General Assembly, gun lovers are pushing to loosen a range of state gun laws. Bills have been filed to expand the number of places people can carry a concealed weapon—including restaurants that serve alcohol—and to ensure business owners can't prohibit employees from keeping guns locked in their cars at work.
But first up is a potential expansion of the state's "Castle Doctrine," which lays out where you're allowed to shoot a potential robber or assailant without fear of arrest.
Currently that's limited to your home. But a new version of the Castle Doctrine would expand that to your car and workplace. Instead of having to show police that someone was trying to hurt you when you shot them, the new law would generally presume you had "a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm." It also rolls back a "duty to retreat" when your life isn't necessarily in danger, and that has gun control advocates particularly concerned.
North Carolinians Against Gun Violence Executive Director Roxanne Kolar said the changes "basically legalize murder and vigilantism." They aren't needed to protect reasonable gun owners, she said, because the state already has a range of protections for self-defense.
Of course, gun advocates disagree. You won't be able to just shoot someone you see breaking into a car, according to Paul Varone, whose pro-gun group, Grass Roots North Carolina, has drafted and pushed gun legislation in North Carolina for several years.
"It's not a 'make my day' law ..." Varone said. "It's very narrowly crafted for circumstances where violent predation is occurring."
Varone said he'd like to see the new law go even further, cracking down on criminals who get shot and then sue the home- or car-owner who shot them. Senate Bill 34 already offers so-called defensive-force shooters immunity from civil suits, as well as criminal prosecution. The measure would shift the legal balance significantly toward homeowners and drivers fending off potential assailants.
But another version of the measure, House Bill 74, would have punished convicted criminals who tried to sue.
Asked about the bill earlier this week, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he "tend(s) to be sympathetic" to people's right to defend themselves.
As for the other gun issues before this General Assembly, the expansion of places where it's OK to carry a concealed weapon is part of House Bill 111, which is sitting in a House Judiciary subcommittee. The parking lot bill, House Bill 63, is in the same committee.