Bill seeks to ease limits on North Dakota's 'castle' law

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Far-right members of the North Dakota Legislature are taking another shot at easing restrictions on citizens' right to use deadly force in self-defense.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeff Magrum, would allow someone to use deadly force without retreating in certain circumstances.

The proposal to remove the so-called “duty to retreat” provision is the latest attempt by conservative lawmakers to modify the state’s “castle law,” which allows a person to stand their ground and use whatever force necessary to protect themselves or their home.

At least 25 states have laws saying there is no duty to retreat before using deadly force against an attacker, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Magrum, a plumber and rancher from Hazelton, said North Dakota citizens are pushing for the state to be added to the list.

“The public wants this,” Magrum said.

Eight House members and four Senators have signed on the bill. A hearing in the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled Monday on the legislation, HB 1193. Four of the measure’s sponsors sit on the 14-member panel.

Magrum said he was confident the bill would get a “do pass” recommendation by the committee and would be endorsed by the full House, where Republicans hold a supermajority. The bill likely would face an uphill battle in the more moderate Senate, which historically hasn’t shown much support for legislation pushed by the so-called Bastiat Caucus, a far-right group that supports limited government and gun rights.

The group claims more than two dozen legislative members, though it refuses to name them. It is headed by GOP Rep. Rick Becker, a Bismarck plastic surgeon, commercial real estate developer and former gubernatorial candidate.

The group sponsored legislation in 2017 that would allow North Dakotans to use deadly force against someone who is fleeing a crime, including misdemeanor offenses.

That bill was killed after prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, clergy and others called it ill-conceived and feared it would create an open season on criminals.

Magrum and Becker believe current law gives criminals an advantage over potential victims who should not have to retreat in a life-threatening situation.

“I don’t think people relish having to shoot somebody,” Becker said.