Skip to Main Content
Last updated .

Self-defense laws in the US typically justify a person’s use of lethal force in public in situations where lethal force was necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm to themselves or another person. Traditionally, these laws have been clear that taking human life is not necessary, and is therefore not justified, if the person could have avoided using lethal violence by retreating, or simply stepping away from a confrontation. A person does not have a duty to retreat from a conflict before using force in their home, however (known as the Castle Doctrine).1 

Stand your ground laws upend centuries of legal tradition, allowing a person to use deadly force in self-defense in public, even if that force can be safely avoided by retreating or when nonlethal force would suffice. 

North Dakota Law

Prior to August 1 2021, North Dakota’s had generally preserved traditional self-defense law in requiring people to withdraw (“retreat”) or avoid the use of force in most public spaces if they knew they could avoid any threat to themselves or others by doing so. In 2021, however, the state enacted so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation.2

While North Dakota law still states explicitly that “An individual is not justified in using more force than is necessary and appropriate under the circumstances,”3 North Dakota’s new law (effective August 1, 2021) generally removes the duty to retreat or avoid force in circumstances where an individual is not engaged in an unlawful activity that gives rise to the need for the use of deadly force, has not provoked the individual against whom they used deadly force, and is any place the individual is otherwise legally allowed to be.4 North Dakota law also provides people with immunity from civil liability for using force, including lethal force, in accordance with this law.5


Our experts can speak to the full spectrum of gun violence prevention issues. Have a question? Email us at

  1. American Bar Association, “National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws: Report and Recommendations,” (September 2015): 1.[]
  2. See 2021 ND HB 1498 (amending N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-05-07(2)(b)(2) ).[]
  3. N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-05-07(1).[]
  4. N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-05-07(2)(b)(2).[]
  5. N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-05-07.2.[]