The time for holiday shopping and family get-together preparations is about to reach its summit. People are rushing to and from their vehicles with hardly a second glance at their surroundings. One distracted moment is all a criminal needs to get into your vehicle to steal your belongings, or worse, make you the victim of an assault or robbery. Situational awareness is key: be mindful of your surroundings, gravitate toward lit areas in parking lots, scan the area for any possible threat, and have a plan in mind for retreat or cover. But what happens when a law-abiding gun owner finds themselves in the sights of a criminal?

During the holiday season, many holiday shoppers are caught unaware by larceny, robbery, or breaking or entering of their vehicles. It is critical that you, as a law-abiding gun owner, understand what legal response is allowable and justified for each of these criminal actions before you find yourself in the middle of one of these terrifying incidents.

Understanding Justified Use of Force

If you carry a handgun, knowing the law on the justified use of force and deadly force to stop a crime will help you develop a plan before an incident takes place. Larceny, robbery, and breaking or entering are all too common around the holidays, and this year’s economy as a result of COVID-19 has likely made a lot of people particularly desperate. We don’t want you to become a victim, so let’s address each of these.

Larceny

Let’s imagine that you’re walking out of a store after shopping for presents. It’s late, but the parking lot is still pretty full of last-minute holiday shoppers. You push your cart across the lot while practicing situational awareness. The cart is just loaded with bags of presents you’ve bought for your family and friends. Upon reaching your car, you let go of the cart and begin searching for your keys. Just then, a person appears out of nowhere, grabs a few of the bags from the cart, and starts running away. This is defined as “larceny.” Larceny is the taking of personal property in the possession of another and carrying it away without the consent of the possessor and with the intent to deprive the possessor of its use permanently knowing that the taker was not entitled to it. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-72. Generally, larceny alone, with no other aggravating factors does not justify the use, or threatened use, of deadly force.

Robbery

Let’s change our earlier scenario. This time, the parking lot is pretty empty, save for a cluster of cars where you’re parked. As you reach your car and begin searching for your keys, a masked man appears from behind the car. He tells you quietly that you can either let him walk away with the shopping cart, or he’ll kill you. North Carolina law defines this as “robbery.”

Common law robbery occurs when a perpetrator commits larceny from a person or from the person’s presence by violence or intimidation. Common law robbery, sometimes referred to as strong-arm robbery, is a common law offense in North Carolina. Armed robbery occurs when a person commits or attempts to commit larceny from the person or from the person’s presence by the possession, use, or threatened use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon that endangers or threatens the life of a person. Armed robbery is found at N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-87. As you can see, robbery, as opposed to larceny, does create a risk of serious bodily injury or death.

Breaking or Entering

Breaking or entering a vehicle is another crime that is common in parking lots around the holidays. Breaking or entering of a vehicle occurs when a perpetrator breaks or enters without consent into any vehicle containing anything of value with intent to commit any felony or larceny therein. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-56. If you are in the vehicle at the time of the attempted forceful entry, you have the right under the Castle Doctrine to repel the entry with deadly force. If the vehicle is unoccupied at the time, you may only use reasonable non-deadly force to stop the breaking and entering.

Armed with situational awareness and an understanding of the self-defense laws in North Carolina, you can protect yourself from the criminal element and keep yourself on the right side of the law this holiday season. In short, you may use reasonable, non-lethal force to protect your property; however, you may only use deadly force if you reasonably believe that you are facing imminent death or serious bodily injury.

For any further questions regarding self-defense over the holiday season, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.


The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.