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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Court ruling: Is your campsite your castle?

If a man's home is his castle, is his campsite his castle, too? At this point in Oregon, it seems to be true. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be a good thing, or a step on the slippery slope. Here's the background:

David Wolf, a 66-year old man, was camping out at the North Fork John Day Campground, a Forest Service Campground outside of Granite, in eastern Oregon. Apparently Wolf had intentions of doing some dredging in the nearby river. When the campground host got wind of Wolf's plans, he contacted a service ranger, who stopped by Wolf's campsite.

In the ensuing conversation, Mr. Wolf revealed that he had a pistol in his pocket, and did not have a concealed carry permit. Lugged into court, Wolf was found guilty of carrying a concealed weapon unlawfully. On appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals, Wolf's case was reversed, the charges dismissed. What was behind the finding?

Wolf's attorney argued that since Mr. Wolf had rented the site, set up a tent, and was living on the site, his camp site was his residence, and hence, he was exempt from the required concealed weapons permit. While 'home is castle,' laws are generally decided by the states, some in the camping industry fear the ruling could have repercussions if the ruling is considered a precedent setter.

There's a couple of things to glean from the ruling. First, many states recognize that a "residence" doesn't have to be tied down. That is, your RV is your residence – your castle – and so to be searched, warrants are required, and laws applying to concealed weapons permits wouldn't apply – when inside the rig. But Oregon's ruling carries the idea a bit farther, making the area around the rig, the campsite, part of the residence.

How does this frighten the campground industry? They fear that they would then lose their ability to dictate what takes place in a campsite that they own, but that a customer rents. For example, a "no smoking outside your RV" rule would then – if you will – go up in smoke if the customer chooses to light up while sitting by his campfire.

Others might find the ruling a self-defense victory or nightmare. If your RV site is your castle and you feel threatened, pulling a weapon and firing on an intruder who walks up to that campfire might meet the test of the 'defensible castle.' Whether that proves true will need to wait for a case to appear in court. In today's 'critical times, hard to deal with,' sadly enough, it will only be a matter of time before the speculative becomes the real thing.


  1. Hmmm, same rules as renting a home would then apply? I. E., if you can smoke outside your house up to the lot line, then same at camp site. Camping agreement would carry same weight as home owner's association rules?

  2. As you mentioned the "Castle Doctrine" does not apply to all states. California, for example, does not have it. Each state determines their own laws regarding firearms use and ownership.

  3. True David, state by state... But as a full time boondocker it sure gives ideas for defense of your camp if/when that unimaginable time ever shows its ugly face...

  4. You have to check individual state laws regarding justifiable use of force. In California a mere break-in does not meet the standard. The assailant must be presenting a threat to a person. Nor do verbal threats. Even if he is presenting a bodily threat, you do not have the right to use force if you have other means of avoiding harm. If someone is coming in your front door and you have access to the back door the right to use deadly force does not exist.

    1. David,

      What is the court case/Penal Code section that requires the home owner to flee his own home when faced with an intruder?

      Just wondering?


    2. David,

      Would that include escaping through the emergency exit in the rear of my motorhome?

      YES....California is special!

  5. If you have a campfire, why would smoking outside your RV be a problem?

  6. Campground owners may not be as powerless here as it might seem. Rental agreements are contracts, and have the force of law behind them. I used to own a couple of rental properties, and all of our leases contained "no smoking" clauses. I had a couple of folks decide to rent elsewhere, and we had to evict one "You're not the boss of me" type, but at the end of the day the law was on our side.

    Most folks who own guns (I'm one of them, for what it's worth) will abide by the rules if you spell the out up front, and having them written into the contract helps convince a few of the more recalcitrant individuals. For those that do break the rules, the fix (especially for private campground owners) is easy: evict the scofflaws.

  7. Boy, this jumped from having a firearm to using it pretty quickly! This ruling makes absolute sense, to me. Our home base is in Louisiana. Your vehicle is considered an "extension of the home", in Louisiana; and, so, you are permitted to carry a loaded firearm either "in plain sight" or concealed in certain compartments (ie glove compartment or console) in your vehicle. Unless I travel into gang-banger territory (ie New Orleans, Baton Rouge, etc.) I feel perfectly safe, keeping in mine that most of the non-felons around me are probably armed! I would imagine, though, that there will be laws passed further limiting our rights because of this ruling. In this particular incident the camper was apparently planning on breaking a law/rule/regulation that prohibited "dredging" in the river. That should have been what the ranger concentrated on, unless he was actually threatened with use of the weapon.

  8. Oh. MY. You mean there are actually campgrounds that do not let you smoke a cigarette OUTSIDE? Next to a smoky campfire? Next they will not permit campers who are a couple pounds heavy to open up packets of Twinkies outside their RVs, either. God help us.

  9. Well yes California does have the law stating an immediate threat must be present, but who's going to prove otherwise when it's your word against a wounded/dead guy in YOUR home? Lived in California for 57 years and i've yet to hear of a case where it went the opposite, specially in my county where everyoone has a gun it seems. And I always carry at the campground, legal or not with things being as they are today.