Students and friends in the community have been asking me about why the Idaho Legislature is going to debate Castle Doctrine. Some say things like, “we already have Castle Doctrine, don’t we”, “we are one of the best states for gun laws and we don’t need to mess with this”, or the ever favorite of politicians “we have other important issues to deal with right now”. So let’s take these one at a time, but first what is the issue anyway?
The Castle Doctrine is a law that basically protects homeowners who have to defend themselves from a criminal who has broken into their home. Most states respect the right of an individual to use deadly force if there is a threat of death or great bodily harm. The Castle Doctrine allows the homeowner to assume the criminal does intend such harm if they have broken into their house – at least until the criminal demonstrates otherwise. It also recognizes that a home owner does not have an obligation to flee their home rather than use force to defend themselves. This is not a “you can shoot them no matter what” issue. It is an added protection to citizens who need to defend themselves or their families in their own homes.
So, do we already have a Castle Doctrine? I have heard many fellow firearms instructors tell their classes that we do, and they are not fully wrong. We do not have Castle Doctrine language in our statutory law, but we do have court precedent that is currently recognized as law. The current effort is to get the language into the statutes so changes to the courts can’t change your legal rights. It will also clarify the legal protection for everyone. Try explaining to a class of new firearm owners how there is no Castle Doctrine in our laws, but the courts will likely be generous and respect court precedent. Along with all the other liabilities to which gun owners are subjected, you now have to trust judges and courts to follow precedent rather than the laws passed by your representatives. A simple fix seems reasonable.
Are we one of the best states for gun laws? No, we are not. A recent article published by Guns and Ammo ranked the various states from weakest laws to best. Idaho, a state that is supposed to be very conservative and friendly to guns, ranked 19th. While that is better than California, Oregon, and Montana; are those the benchmarks we want to be measured against. Wyoming, was 17th, Utah 6th (and they do not even have Constitutional Carry), Montana 5th and Arizona 1st. So, why was Idaho ranked below those other states? Idaho “…loses ground in the Castle Doctrine column thanks to its less-than-ideal use-of-force framework.”
Finally, do we have better things to work on in Boise? We probably do, but we can do this as well. There are excellent legislators working on this issue, and if it is not opposed by leadership, it will sail through taking little of the time they need to do their ‘more important” work – whatever that is. They can fully debate the issues in committee and on the floor, and get the wording corrected without a great deal of struggle. But if leadership decides they will oppose simple improvements to protect Idaho citizens, they will likely draw out the process and eventually loose as they did with Constitutional Carry. It may take a year or two, but in the end, Idaho will likely be one of the best states for respecting the rights of citizens to protect themselves. Not just in the courts, but in the law.