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'Stand your ground' bill fails in North Dakota House

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State capitol

The 21-floor administrative tower of the state Capitol in Bismarck glows in this winter scene. With a metal sculpture of Cortes the horse on the right, the tower is flanked by the Legislative wing, left, and the Judicial wing, right, as part of the 132-acre complex. The Art Deco-designed Capitol was completed in 1934 after the previous Capitol structure was lost to fire on Dec. 28, 1930.

By a slight margin, the North Dakota House voted down a so-called "stand your ground" bill that supporters said would "empower potential victims." 

House Bill 1497 failed by a vote of 41-49 on Wednesday. Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, introduced the bill to the House Judiciary Committee in January, which gave an 8-6 "do-pass" recommendation to the bill after amendments in committee work. Similar legislation failed in 2017.

"This bill would allow an individual to defend themselves when being attacked by removing the requirement to attempt a retreat before using deadly force," Magrum said. 

Lawmakers questioned scenarios associated with the bill's intent. 

"What about my friend who's being stalked by her ex-husband?" asked Rep. Mary Adams, D-Grand Forks. "If he comes to the door, does she get to shoot him because she's afraid he's going to do bodily harm?"

Others highlighted North Dakota's so-called "castle doctrine," or the right to essentially use deadly force in one's home, vehicle or workplace. People generally have a "duty to retreat" when assailed in public, unless use of force can't be avoided.

"What you have here is basically a bill where you have the right to shoot first and ask questions second," said Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, who urged no votes "in the interest of reasonableness." 

Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, urged passage to "simplify the law."

"The people of North Dakota are responsible people," Koppelman said. "They don't take the law into their own hands, but they should have the right to defend themselves."

Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or


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