When can you shoot? Police chief sheds light on sometimes confusing self-defense law

Sep. 22, 2013 @ 09:12 PM

When can you shoot someone in self-defense?
During a recent forum on the state’s Castle Doctrine, some who were gathered at New Beginnings Full Gospel Ministry Church seemed confused about using a gun for self defense and when and where it is legal to carry a gun.
Police Chief Marty Sumner said when he appears in public, he usually gets questions about self-defense shootings.
“Can I shoot someone breaking into my house? I get that question a lot,” Sumner said. “That is followed by, ‘Will I be charged?’ That is a concern for a lot of folks.  But it is my experience that people use deadly force only when they have to.  They do not want to shoot just because they can.”
Sumner said he was not surprised by the questions at the forum.
“A lot of people get bits and pieces of the information from the media and they fill in the rest,” he said. “They are not able to get it from the police or an attorney.”

Here is a Q &A based on Sumner’s comments, recent events and questions from the forum:

Q: What’s the difference between the Stand your Ground Law in Florida and the state’s Castle Doctrine?

A: The Florida statute allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense “anyplace” where there is “imminent peril of death or great bodily harm.” The expanded 2011 North Carolina  law limits the use of deadly force to the home, workplace and the car “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”
“There never has been a duty to retreat at home. The General Assembly added the workplace and the car,” Sumner said. “Our law is vastly different from the Florida law.”
Police investigate all shootings like homicides, Sumner said, and work with the district attorney to get a ruling as soon as they can.
“We give the district attorney the facts, and he tells us what we need to know. If there is a question about the facts in the case, the district attorney can take it to the grand jury to get a ruling,” Sumner said.

Q: Can I shoot someone who is breaking into my house and I’m inside?

A: Yes. In July, a Reidsville business owner shot and killed a man authorities say broke into his business. One man charged him after he told him to stop. Police said the business owner acted in self-defense. If you have fear for your life at home, in your workplace, or in your car, you can shoot in self-defense.
“The use of deadly force in the state has not been expanded. You can defend against a lethal threat,” Sumner said.
The law also provides civil immunity under certain self-defense circumstances.

Q: Can I shoot someone who is stealing my car?

A: No. The example of a man in another state who fired from his apartment at a man near his car came out during the forum.
“You can not use this law to defend property,” he said. “The law has been extended to you in the car, but you can not use lethal force to defend property.”

Q: Can I shoot someone who is assaulting me?

A: There is an obligation to retreat if you are off your property. If you can’t and if you believe you are in imminent danger of death, you can use deadly force. If the attacker runs off, you should not follow and shoot, Sumner said.
“You can’t be the aggressor and claim self-defense,” he said. “You can’t shoot the person in the back.”

Q: Can I shoot someone who is assaulting someone else?

A: Unless someone directly threatens you or your family, you should stay out of the trouble.
“We encourage people to call 911,” Sumner said. “Be a good witness for police.”

Q: Is it OK to have a gun in my car when I pick up my kid from school?

A: Yes. After Oct. 1, concealed-carry permit holders can “store” weapons in locked cases in locked cars while on the campus of any public school or university.
The state police chiefs association opposed the bill approved by the General Assembly.  Private universities can prohibit guns on campus. High Point University has done that, Sumner said.
dnivens@hpe.com | 888-3626


Castle Doctrine
“. . . a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have the duty to retreat in any place he or she has the lawful right to be if either of the following applies:  He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or anothe