House Bill 1193 would allow anyone to use deadly force against an assailant without attempting to retreat from the situation. The so-called “stand-your-ground” legislation would expand the current “castle” law that permits the use of deadly force at one’s home or workplace but requires an effort to escape the attacker in other circumstances.
The North Dakota House of Representatives narrowly voted down a similar bill in 2019, but at least 25 states already have laws that allow the use of deadly force before retreating, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Rep. Jeff Magrum said he’s sponsoring the bill because it promotes victims’ rights to protect themselves from attackers in public. The Hazelton Republican added that the legislation is mostly oriented toward “women and younger people” because “a man might be able to fend (assailants) off with something.”
The push for the bill, which has attracted 11 Republican co-sponsors, is inspired by a 2019 shooting in which a volunteer security guard shot and killed an assailant in a Texas church, Magrum said.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, declined to comment on Magrum’s bill, but he said “if someone comes at me with a gun in a public place, I don’t think I should back down.”
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said Magrum’s proposal opens the door to false claims of self-defense by bad actors who were never in danger of serious harm. Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, noted that similar laws in other states have negative impacts on people of color.
A 2015 study found that Florida defendants who claim the state’s stand-your-ground law are twice as likely to be convicted in a case with white victims compared to non-white victims.
The laws have also been associated with higher rates of homicide in states that have implemented them, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. Magrum called the evidence of increased homicides “fake news,” saying opponents made similar arguments before the passage of the original castle law.
A handful of North Dakota residents testified in favor of Magrum’s bill on Monday, Jan. 25, during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee. Several proponents said they live in rural areas, and an attacker would pose them imminent danger that required deadly force.
Speaking against the bill, Ward County State’s Attorney Roza Larson said North Dakotans already have protection against prosecution for using deadly force in cases where they face an imminent threat of bodily harm. Larson added that if the proposal were adopted it could cause a serious threat to public safety.
In pitching his bill to fellow members of the House Judiciary Committee, Magrum noted the National Rifle Association would likely factor a vote on the legislation into its lawmaker scorecard. Some conservatives wear the organization’s rating like a badge of honor, but Magrum’s thinly veiled insinuation was met with chuckles by lawmakers.