The North Dakota House narrowly approved a measure Monday to allow homeowners greater latitude in using deadly force on intruders.
Known as the "Castle Doctrine," the measure removes the homeowner's legal duty to either retreat or try to force an intruder to retreat before using deadly force.
It passed 50-44 after a long, lively debate on the House floor and will now be considered by the state Senate.
Proponents of the law say it's not right for homeowners who use deadly force to face the ordeal of being arrested and the burden of proof in court that their actions were in self-defense.
Rep. Alan Carlson, R-Fargo, said many of these encounters occur in a split second. He said it's unreasonable to expect homeowners to determine an intruder's intentions and either retreat or force a retreat in this time frame.
"Some people would have some severe consequences to themselves and their families if they couldn't defend themselves," Carlson said.
Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, said the change is reinforcing a basic right that goes back thousands of years.
"This is nothing new,' he said. "It goes back to biblical times."
To legally use deadly force, homeowners must have "a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury," the bill says. This is established if the intruder is breaking in or if the user of deadly force has reason to believe that a break-in occurred.
The doctrine also applies to a person's office or car, in the case of a carjacking.
It does not allow deadly force to be used on any entrant who has a legal right to be there or on a child or grandchild who is a dependent of the homeowner. The right is also disallowed if illegal activity is occurring at the home or if the intruder is a law enforcement officer serving a warrant.
Opponents of the measure called it an unnecessary change that could result in more shooting deaths in North Dakota.
"This bill is a policy shift where we're going from the preservation of human life to removing that language," said Rep. Stacy Dahl, R-Grand Forks.
Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, called it the "shoot first and ask questions later"bill.
"The use of deadly force is avoidable," he said. "This is saying its OK."
Fifteen other states, including South Dakota, have passed "Castle Doctrine" laws in various forms.
The nickname comes from a similar provision in English common law that states "one's home is one's castle."
(Reach reporter Jonathan Rivoli at 223-8482 or firstname.lastname@example.org)