BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers have approved a bill that would significantly lower the legal bar for using deadly force in self-defense.
The so-called "stand-your-ground" legislation would expand the existing "castle" law that permits the use of deadly force at one's home or workplace but requires an effort to escape the attacker in public places unless one's life is in danger. The bill would eliminate the "duty to retreat" and allow the use of deadly force to prevent a violent felony anywhere a person is legally permitted to be.
North Dakotans are already legally justified in the use of deadly force if they cannot escape a life-threatening attack.
The House of Representatives voted 78-10 along party lines on Friday, April 9, to send House Bill 1498 to Republican Gov. Doug Burgum for a signature. A spokesman for Burgum could not be reached for comment in time for publication, but the governor usually does not speak on pending legislation.
The House agreed to a slight Senate amendment to the bill that removes some civil liability protection for those who use deadly force under the law. House members noted that the eliminated clause was inconsequential and those who use deadly force under the law would likely be protected from civil suits anyway.
Supporters of the bill, sponsored by West Fargo Republican Rep. Ben Koppelman, say it promotes victims' rights to protect themselves from attackers and violent criminals in public. The legislation is a favorite of gun rights advocates.
"Victims of violent crime who respond with defensive force while protecting themselves or loved ones ... should not have to face additional threat of criminal prosecution," said Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg. "We believe that if you do carry a gun and if you face that horrible situation, life or death, that you should be able to defend yourself and not flee."
Opponents of the legislation argue it opens the door to false claims of self-defense by bad actors who were never in danger of serious harm. Others say similar laws implemented elsewhere have proven to negatively impact people of color.
“Our self-defense laws are effective, and they protect people who have no choice but to fight for their lives," said Cheryl Biller, a volunteer with the North Dakota chapter of Moms Demand Action, in a statement Thursday. "This legislation, on the other hand, would encourage vigilantism and unnecessary violence by allowing anyone to shoot to kill in public even when they can clearly and safely walk away from danger."
The House narrowly voted down a "stand-your-ground" bill in 2019, but at least 25 states, including Montana and South Dakota, already have laws that allow the use of deadly force before attempting to retreat, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.