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The Castle Doctrine and Personal Defense Law

Updated on May 21, 2015

2nd Amendment Rights


A Very Brief Introduction to Self-Defense Laws

While I am not an attorney, nor am I a law enforcement officer, I have done a little research in order to understand the various laws that govern the use of deadly force in personal defense. Nothing in this article should be construed as professional legal advice.

The castle doctrine comes from English common law. We have all heard the phrase, "A man's home is his castle." This legal tradition is one reason the U.S. Constitution forbids the quartering of soldiers in private residences (third amendment) and requires a warrant to search a home (fourth amendment.) The heirs of English common law have always assumed the state had no business in a man's home without probable cause and that a man could defend his home against trespassers that pose threats to life, limb, or property.

The castle doctrine does not protect a person who roams around outside his home looking for trouble, nor does it provide cover for a person who invites somebody into his home in order to provoke a confrontation. The castle doctrine also does not generally extend beyond the home; A man who pursues an intruder and shoots him in the back cannot claim the castle doctrine as a defense.

Stand your ground laws vary by state. These laws generally mean that a citizen does not have a duty to retreat even in a public space if they are being threatened by someone acting illegally. Such laws still do not usually cover anyone who is looking for a fight, stalking, or chasing a person. Stand your ground laws are intended to protect people who, when threatened, deem lethal force a safer option than retreat. A mother with young children in tow, for example, would be better off shooting an oncoming attacker than attempting escape.

Some states espouse a "kinder, gentler" approach known as the duty to retreat. This obligates a person to do everything possible to avoid harming even a person who forcibly enters his home! In other words, you cannot shoot unless/until you are backed into a corner with no escape and no other options. The duty to retreat places a person who uses deadly force to defend his home at the mercy of jurors who were not present during the incident. Those jurors get to determine whether a person acted reasonably in defending his home from an intruder.

It is essential to know the laws of your own state if you have firearms in your home or carry a firearm for personal defense. In states with concealed-carry laws, you will have a required class which teaches you your rights and responsibilities. Know the law, know your rights and responsibilities, and make informed decisions based on your individual situation.


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    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Interesting--we don't own guns and I don't think I could have one in my house but there are plenty of people in our Texas neighborhood that do and I'm going to have to learn the laws about this for my state.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Yes, HB, that what I was taught as well. I certainly don't feel an obligation to let them get completely inside before I stop them!

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      In my state, the person must be a direct threat to one's life or safety. A police officer once told me, "If you shoot him coming through the window, drag him on in before you cal us." And so I shall.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      I'm glad you are all right! Dogs are often a good deterrent, even if they just bark.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I agree that it is essential to read up on your own state's laws!

      While it was an un-loaded bolt action weapon (he didn't know that!), I have used a firearm to protect myself and my dogs before. To make a long story short, a man who was doing yard work for a neighbor came in my backyard and threatened the three of us with a weedwhacker. I tried to talk him into leaving, but, ultimately, a K-98 solved the problem pretty quickly. Maybe I should write a hub about that far too exciting experience...

      Voted up and useful!