by Travis Fain
Monday update: Senate Bill 34, the Castle Doctrine makeover covered below, passed the state Senate tonight 35-13. It heads to the House for further debate.
Spurred by the Republican takeover of the N.C. General Assembly, gun lovers are pushing to 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 bill scheduled for debate Thursday in the state Senate would expand that to your car and work place. The measure, Senate Bill 34, would also shift the legal balance significantly toward homeowners and drivers fending off potential assailants.
Instead of having to show police that someone was actually 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, 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. But another version of the measure — House Bill 74 — would have punished convicted criminals who tried to sue.
Once locked up, they'd lose the right to visit with family, use the telephone, exercise outside and use the prison library.
"As much as I personally support those, they're no longer in the bill," Varone said.
A vote on Castle Doctrine will likely come during Thursday's 11 a.m. Senate session. 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, only time will tell. 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.
Both have been high priorities for gun groups in other states in recent years. But even in Republican-dominated legislatures they've taken time — some times several legislative sessions — to pass.
Roxanne Kolar's title has been corrected.