Going Armed to the Terror of the People

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After I eliminated this offense from the 7th edition of North Carolina Crimes, a few people asked me to add it back in. A statistics report from the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts shows that in 2011 this crime was charged in 340 cases. That’s not a huge number, but it probably justifies including the offense in Crimes. In any event, since the book has been printed I can’t make any changes until the 8th edition is produced (note: even thinking about that gives me a migraine). In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about this crime.


This is a common law offense. State v. Dawson, 272 N.C. 535, 541-42 (1968); State v. Huntly, 25 N.C. 418, 418 (1843); State v. Staten, 32 N.C. App. 495, 496-97 (1977) (citing Dawson).


A person guilty of this offense

(1)  arms himself or herself with an unusual and dangerous weapon

(2)  for the purpose of terrifying others and

(3)  goes about on public highways

(4)  in a manner to cause terror to the people.


Class 1 misdemeanor. G.S. 14-3(a).


Generally. For the elements of this offense, see Dawson, 272 N.C. at 549, and Staten, 32 N.C. App. at 497.

For a case in which the evidence was sufficient to establish this offense, see, for example, Dawson, 272 N.C. at 549 (armed with a carbine and four pistols, the defendant and three others drove on the public highways at night, firing bullets into a store and two homes).

Element (1). In Huntly, the court held that any gun is an unusual and dangerous weapon for purposes of this offense. Huntly, 25 N.C. at 422. In that case it was argued that a gun cannot constitute an unusual weapon, “for there is scarcely a man in the community who does not own and occasionally use a gun of some sort.” Id. The court rejected that argument, concluding: “A gun is an ‘unusual weapon,’ wherewith to be armed and clad. No man amongst us carries it about with him, as one of his every day accoutrements–as a part of his dress–and never we trust will the day come when any deadly weapon will be worn or wielded in our peace loving and law-abiding State, as an appendage of manly equipment.” Id.

In State v. Lanier, 71 N.C. 288, 289 (1874), the defendant was charged with going armed to the terror of the people after riding a horse, at a canter, through a courthouse. Witnesses saw no arms of any kind. The North Carolina Supreme Court “attach[ed] no importance to the fact that the defendant had no arms” stating, “we think it may be conceded that the driving or riding without arms through a court house or a crowded street at such a rate or in such a manner as to endanger the safety of the inhabitants amounts to a breach of the peace and is an indictable offence at common law.” Id. at 290.

Element (3). It appears that the offense would not occur if the defendant remained on private property.

Element (4). The offense of affray involves fighting in public to the terror of the people. For purposes of that offense, cases hold that if members of the public experience fear, the “to the terror of the people” element is satisfied. In re May, 357 N.C. 423, 428 (2003). In an unpublished case involving a charge of going armed to the terror of the people, the North Carolina Court of Appeals found this element satisfied where the defendant shot his gun while driving closely behind another vehicle on a public highway. State v. Toler, 716 S.E.2d 875 (N.C. App. 2011) (unpublished) (rejecting the defendant’s argument that his actions were not “to the terror of the people” where the only people involved were those in the victim’s car, and stating: “We find this to be substantial evidence that this behavior was intended to be to the terror of the people and was in fact to the terror of the people. The fact that a limited number of witnesses testified regarding Defendant’s actions does not change the character of those actions.”).

Charging issues. Although it is proper to enumerate the acts or threats of violence that the defendant undertakes while armed, such allegations are not required.Dawson, 272 N.C. at 549 (indictment upheld absent such allegations).

37 comments on “Going Armed to the Terror of the People

  1. I’m curious how this would be perceived by FARB, or any of the leading experts, as to Open Carry, I know we have seen a rise in Open Carry of Firearms, if the subjects are carrying a lawful but “unusual and deadly weapon” off of their property but same is holstered, but invokes fear in the public people that fear all guns, does this constitute a crime, In my opinion, no… Thank you for your time.

    • You give your opinion, which is based upon what?

      In law, the real issue would be the effect of your actions. So, while even though you may consider the general public to be hoplophobes, as for purposes of this offense, cases hold that if members of the public experience fear, the “to the terror of the people” element is satisfied. In re May, 357 N.C. 423, 428 (2003).

      In other words, your belief that you are doing nothing wrong isn’t as important as the effect your actions have on other people.

      As the Heller decision pointed out, the right to keep and bear arms is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Indeed, the decision only allowed for the possession of licenced and registered handguns in the home, not off one’s property.

      Quite frankly, carrying guns in public has been addressed by the Supreme Court in Presser v. Illinois, 116 U.S. 252 (1886) which found that carrying arms could be regulated: “The exercise of this power by the states is necessary to the public peace, safety, and good order.”

      • I think the regulations were meant to address the things they do like on school property, government buildings, or any property where the owner forbids it. I don’t see how we get from there to a person wearing a holstered pistol down the street is not just exercising of the right to bear arms. It’s not if a person felt fear but if a reasonable person would feel fear. I do not think any reasonable person we could come up with would fear a standard pistol that was holstered and carried on someone’s person. Its rather a reasonable person would feel fear that is the key.

  2. Would not limiting firearms (rifles/pistols/shotguns) to having only fixed or built in magazines help
    eliminate the ability to have a substantial ammunition supply causing deadly consequence’s associated with ‘gun massacres’ and in particular some of the more recent events(?).
    This limitation does not violate any citizens second amendment rights, you can still own a weapon.
    This makes a lot of reasonable sense to me. I have heard NRA spokespersons amplify the fact of how fast a clip(portable magazine) can be changed out allowing even larger damage to innocent citizens who suffer the damages from this zealous political motivated concern of the rights under the second amendment.

    The second amendment included the words “a well regulated militia”. I looked up the legal meaning of the word ‘militia’ in my Blacks Law Dictionary and it is described as:

    ‘The body of citizens in a state, enrolled for discipline as a military force, not engaged in actual service except in emergencies as distinguished from regular troops or a standing army.’

    ‘Enrolled for discipline’ does not seem to match the perpetrators who have no discipline in the use of deadly weapons. Enrolled means: To enter or register in a roll, list, or record, this means that the second amendment includes that weapon owners should be registered , on a list and disciplined.

    • Jerry, George Mason said, “What is the militia, it is the whole people, except for a few public officials.” Read DC v. Heller. Of course the second part of the Second Amendment states, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Black’s law dictionary was probably written by one of those guys hanging out on Franklin Street bothering people.

    • A further quotation from the opinion of Clark, C. J., in State
      v. Kerner, in which opinion Hoke, J., later C. J., concurred, is
      not inappropriate to the present times:

      “The former [the right to keep and bear arms] is a sacred
      right based upon the experience of the ages in order that the
      people may be accustomed to bear arms and ready to use them
      for the protection of their liberties or their country when
      occasion serves. The provision against carrying them concealed
      was to prevent assassinations or advantages taken by the
      lawless, i. e., against the abuse of the privilege. * * *

      “In our own State, in 1870, when Kirk’s militia was
      turned loose and the writ of habeas corpus was suspended, it
      would have been fatal if our people had been deprived of the
      right to bear arms, and had been unable to oppose an effective
      front to the usurpation.

      “The maintenance of the right to bear arms is a most
      essential one to every free people, and should not be whittled
      down by technical constructions. It should be construed to
      include all such ‘arms’ as were in common use, and borne by
      the people as such when this provision was adopted. * * * The
      intention was to embrace ‘the arms,’ an acquaintance with
      whose use was necessary for their protection against the
      usurpation of illegal power–such as rifles, muskets,
      shotguns, swords, and pistols. * * *

      “The usual method when a country is overborne by force is
      to ‘disarm’ the people. It is to prevent the above and similar
      exercises of arbitrary power that the people, in creating this
      government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people,’
      reserved to themselves the right to ‘bear arms’ that,
      accustomed to their use they might be ready to meet illegal
      force with legal force by adequate and just defense of their
      persons, their property, and their liberties, whenever
      necessary. We should be slow indeed to construe such guarantee
      into a mere academic expression which has become obsolete.”

  3. Police nationwide have been documented on video/audio trying to discourage citizens from open carry of legal guns. Often they use the excuse that citizens become frightened by the sight of anyone without a badge carrying and call police, who sometimes falsely arrest the carrier and confiscate the firearm. At what point does the mere open carry turn into ” terror ‘ for anti-gun proponents? It is not the fault of the open carrier that many people today are alarmed at the sight of a gun in a holster without obvious LEo credentials, and of course cops will use any excuse to limit citizens from exercising their rights when it comes to guns, wishing to be the only armed people in public, despite the laws to the contrary.

    In fact, if someone is simply open carrying , the police do not have any legal reason to detain and demand ID from the carrier, seeing as how no reasonable suspicion exists from the lawful act of open carry..the cops often say that they ” have no way of knowing if the carrier is a felon ” as an excuse to detain and ID a carrier, but if they do not have any reawson to suspect that the carrier is in fact a felon the stop is just a fishing expedition w/o RS or Pc of any kind and is an illegal detention. People should not have to prove to a cop that his unfounded suspicions have any validity and the excuse that the public may become alarmed should not be an excuse to limit the right to open carry. It is not the responsibility of the lawful open carrier to give up his rights because some citizens may have apprehensions, but the cops are using this as a reason to harrass carriers all the time.

    Without ” articulable ” and reasonable grounds to believe that a crime is being committed, open carriers should not be detained whatsoever, and lawsuits may be the only way to reign in agressive cops who resent not being the exclusive carriers of guns. Flipping off a cop does not give the officer the legal right to detain or charge a citizen and carrying a holstered gun does not give them any legal authority to initiate a detention and interrogation either.

    People do not have to prove that they are entitled to open carry just because they are carrying, or because of calls by citizens who do not comprehend the rights to carry and are afraid that an otherwise innocuous citizen is open carrying a gun. If unfounded alarm is enough to deny our rights, we are in a sad state of affairs indeed.

  4. I want to know how carrying a fire arm into a public store is legal, it really makes no since. I am retired military and I work in a store part time I don’t want to see a fire arm on any ones side while im working there I don’t know these people I don’t know what they will do and we are not allowed to carry a fire arm while working so how does that make any since.

    • Following your logic, you should not be allowed to drive a 1.5 ton vehicle on the road as I don’t know if you have a valid license and training and I am afraid you might kill myself or my family.

    • The odds are overwhelming that the only person who would come into your store with open carry would be a Law abiding citizen, as an ex Military person you should understand any honest citizens desire to be able to,should the need arise, to defend themselves or others

  5. James Herring,You Sir, are an [removed by editor]!I too am retired military and well versed in all things “gun”.Carrying a properly holstered handgun into any public “store” that is not posted “no firearms” is totally legal.As a matter of fact, I would rather see even “more” people legally carrying firearms, It serves as a deterrent to any “would-be-perp”that he just might better choose somebody that’snot “packing” to be his next victum.I am not really concerned with the “average sheeple’s”reaction to me carrying a gun, for , after all, these people are the very ones that would gladly disarm all of us , leaving us to the mercy of the criminals. You should go to the website “”and educate yourself on the legal and practical aspects of firearm ownership and carry of same.May you never have to utter those famous words,”Iwished I’d had a gun.”Have a nice day.

  6. My son 19, charged with carrying to terror of public, charge dropped, can and how do I get my gun back.

    • First, ask the law enforcement agency that confiscated it to give it back. If they won’t, file a motion with the clerk of court requesting a court order.

  7. It’s a useful charge for plea negotiation purposes, since it’s a class 1 misdemeanor and therefore carries a little more weight for future sentencing on prior records, unlike the class 2 misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon, affray, etc. So it provides a useful compromise on some felony weapons cases where perhaps the evidence isn’t everything the DA might hope for, but the defendant doesn’t want to risk a felony conviction, either. This offers a useful middle(-ish) ground in certain cases.

    • So the law is like a game of chess? It’s not about justice but the “win”, even if a minor win. That’s how i read your comment.

  8. Here from the 1843 Huntly case is what follows just after where the reference to it in your Element (1) ends:

    But although a gun is an “unusual weapon,” it is to be remembered that the carrying of a gun per se constitutes no offence. For any lawful purpose-either of business or amusement-the citizen is at perfect liberty to carry his gun. It is the wicked purpose-and the mischievous result-which essentially constitute the crime. He shall not carry about this or any other weapon of death to terrify and alarm, and in such manner as naturally will terrify and alarm, a peaceful people.

  9. These quotes are from the 2008 United States Supreme Court in Heller, now the Law of the Land:

    At the time of the founding, as now, to “bear” meant to “carry.”
    See Johnson 161; Webster; T. Sheridan, A Complete Dictionary of the
    English Language (1796); 2 Oxford English Dictionary 20 (2d ed.
    1989) (hereinafter Oxford). When used with “arms,” however, the term
    has a meaning that refers to carrying for a particular purpose—confrontation. In Muscarello v. United States, 524 U. S. 125 (1998), in the course of analyzing the meaning of “carries a firearm” in a federal criminal statute, Justice Ginsburg wrote that “[s]urely a most familiar meaning is, as the Constitution’s Second Amendment … indicate[s]:
    ‘wear, bear, or carry … upon the person or in the clothing or in a
    pocket, for the purpose … of being armed and ready for offensive or
    defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.’ ” Id.,
    at 143 (dissenting opinion) (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 214 (6th
    ed. 1998)). We think that Justice Ginsburg accurately captured the natural meaning of “bear arms.” Although the phrase implies that the carrying of the weapon is for the purpose of “offensive or defensive action,” it in no way connotes participation in a structured military organization.

    We look to this because it has always been widely understood that
    the Second Amendment , like the First and Fourth Amendment s, codified a pre-existing right. The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it “shall not be infringed.” As we said in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, 553 (1876),“[t]his is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed … .”
    There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history,
    that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms.

  10. McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010), is a landmark[1] decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that determined whether the Second Amendment applies to the individual states. The Court held that the right of an individual to “keep and bear arms” protected by the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the states. The decision cleared up the uncertainty left in the wake of District of Columbia v. Heller as to the scope of gun rights in regard to the states.

  11. Soon, we will be living in the “OLD” West, where every male carried a visible handgun and every woman had a concealed one. I remember the day when, as an officer, I was NOT allowed to expose my handgun unless my badge showed as well. Now, we have concealed carry persons wearing their guns, half-exposed or completely exposed. Maybe its just a way of showing off your concealed permit. Wait, wasn’t that permit for ‘concealment’?

    • Bob: i HOPE we see the return to virtually everyone is armed, as it prevents the bad guys from going on a public rampage without fear of being stopped by deadly force, reduces robbery chances, and generally makes people more polite. A permit for concealing a gun is the only way non-criminal citizens can protect themselves and families, and others, without open carrying everywhere. Criminals do not open carry, and they do not seek permits. Taking options away from the law abiding makes no sense. Open carry is what all cops do in this day and age so citizens should not be deprived of any right a cop has. Cops generally hate open carriers because their ego’s are offended by the temerity of a mere citizen exercising the same rights they have .

      In many states, it is impractical to carry concealed all the weather means no jacket to hide the gun, etc. If one cannot comfortably conceal his gun, then by all means open carry..any gun half concealed might as well announce to any bad guys that you are not going to be a victim without a fight, and to gun haters and fear mongers that it is perfectly normal and legal to arm one’s self in public. In so many cases I have seen where lilly livered citizens call the cops on someone open carrying, the cops illegally detain the carrier, demand ID and try to discourage or intimidate the open carrier, as if the unfounded fears of some few people outweigh the rights of the carrier..several lawsuits have been won by open carriers illegally detained and harrassed and sadly this may be the only way to teach the cops the law they should already know, or to respect it if they do and simply wish to ignore it.

      Armed and trained citizens are the best friend a cop has..should a cop find himself under fire and without adequate help, open carriers and CCW holders alike no doubt would step up and assist. To harrass and disparage lawful carriers only risks alienating the only people who might save them should things go terribly wrong…not a sensible policy. The way things are going in this nation, the cops, for their own survival, should not make any more enemies than they have already…the fact is this: Should the power grid go down for more than a few days, major cities would turn into war zones and cops would be praying for armed citizens to back them up against the gangs and rampagers..if they foster an ” us vs. them ” mentality, they will rue the day they did.

    • Bob, you’ve been watching too many Westerns. There was never a time when every male carried a visible handgun and every woman had a concealed one.

    • I am actually single and a current body builder. No matter what I do. My firearm will unknowingly print and sometimes become exposed. It is in no way my effort to show my concealed firearm as being a firearm instructor in this great state it sometimes happens. Hell last night I removed my firearm from my vehicle as to make it safe , I caught a caring to the terror of the public charge. The children didn’t press charges the cop did. So what’s in his right to do so. I have seen him multiple times playing with his sidearm in his personal car while not on duty couldn’t that be considered the same

    • Since you can’t even use a simple word in its proper context, I call b.s. and therefore your argument doesn’t hold water.

      In NC open carry is lawful unless a business posts clearly a sign saying otherwise.

      I’m ex military as well (actual, not pretend) and i argue that few (none) criminals carry openly and frankly, your hoplophobic nightmare is my wet dream.

  12. The “old west” was not as that which is pictured in old movies or on television. I am constantly surprised that many people seem to think people were shot every day in Dodge…

    • The point, which I am suprised you missed so completely, is this; When the average person is armed and most people carry guns, there are far fewer chances for people to become victims of criminals. Most criminals hesitate to rob or assault armed persons, knowing that they face death or injury should they choose to ignore the perils of the other person being able to defend themselves. Also, armed citizens can step in and shoot anyone who deserves it…while the unarmed citizen is helpless to assist or even save themselves. Not having a gun when really needed is far worse than having one and never needing never knows when the unexpected will happen, and we all know that we cannot rely on the cops to be everywhere or to stop armed thugs..most cops show up after a death or assault and fill out a report, and notify the victims families. Also, cop are under no legal requirement to step up and take action..and they normally will not do so unless their own safety is assured. Remember the Columbine massacxre? Cops waited for a SWAT team while the teens murdered over a dozen kids, because of the fear of the cops that they would be taking a risk by moving in. Before SWAT teams and ” officer safety ” being the norm, cops sucked up their fears and moved in, knowing that to do otherwise was seen as cowardice…after all, if they won’t, who will? Answer: The armed citizen, who no doubt feel far less constrained by the current attitude of most cops that ” going home at the end of a shift ‘ is far more important than whether innocent people lose their lives. It is not hard to imagine a cop cowering behind a car and radioing for help while the armed citizen moves in and at least trries to save a fellow citizen, and cops hate the thought of being shown up and embarrassed, so they fight tooth and nail to stop open carriers and to discourage CCW holders as well…someone has to be willing to step up, and if they won’t, who will? We will, thats who…as long as we have the guts to not only carry but use weapons when needed…wars do not get won in foxholes, and cops must either be willing to risk their lives at times..if they do not, they can expect us to do so.

      • I don’t know where you get your information or inclinations from, but they are deeply–almost tragically–flawed.

        Search for articles just relating to open carry individual being robbed. The frequency is amusing.

        “armed citizens can step in and shoot anyone who deserves it” Based on what metric exactly? One rationale for having a professional police force is that they follow an established set of rules and guidelines on everything from when to arrest to when to use deadly force. I won’t debate that some individuals stray beyond their legal boundaries, but by in large the majority of police abide by their professional guidelines.

        Columbine changed the entire approach law enforcement takes toward active shooters. They were not acting cowardly, they were following what was considered “best practices” at the time. Columbine made police professionals exam those practices and ultimately decide there was a better way.

  13. I’m curious as to how open carry should be seen in light of the US Supreme Court’s opinion in PRESSER v. STATE OF ILLINOIS, 116 U.S. 252 (1886)?

    That opinion said this about carrying weapons in public:

    We think it clear that the sections under consideration, which only forbid bodies of men to associate together as military organizations, or to drill or parade with arms in cities [116 U.S. 252, 265] and towns unless authorized by law, do not infringe the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

    While the decision concerned people engaging in an unauthorised parade while carrying arms, I think it is consistent with what previous treatises said about going about carrying weapons in public, For example, William Rawle explains the relationship of open carry to the Second Amendment in his treatise “A View of the Constitution of the United States”, 125–26 1829 (2d ed.):

    “This right ought not, however, in any government, to be abused to the disturbance of the public peace.

    An assemblage of persons with arms, for an unlawful purpose, is an indictable offence, and even the carrying of arms abroad by a single individual, attended with circumstances giving just reason to fear that he purposes to make an unlawful use of them, would be sufficient cause to require him to give surety of the peace. If he refused he would be liable to imprisonment.”

    While some state legislatures have deemed it wise to allow people to carry weapons in public, that does not seem to be a good policy decision, or one which is covered by the Second Amendment.

  14. Of the 340 charges that were filed in 2011, how many resulted in a conviction? I am a NC CCH Instructor and would like to pass more info along to my students.

  15. This statute is unconstitutionally vague leading to arbitrary enforcement. Additionally, the courts have ruled against a heckler’s veto in 1st amendment cases and should also do likewise with the 2nd.

  16. […] occupation forces to use to suppress “night riders” and similar proto-Klan types. The dormant law had actually been eliminated from a popular NC law book before prosecutors rediscovered it as part of today’s […]

  17. […] of going armed to the terror of the people. (Jessie Smith discusses the elements of the crime here.) As relevant to open carry, the law prohibits a person from carrying a gun for the purpose of […]

  18. […] We don’t know if the man offering assistance was arrested. Under North Carolina law, he could presumably be charged with “going armed to the terror of the public.”  That said, “going armed to the terror of the public” requires the following: […]

  19. […] ignore the standard, acceptable definitions of “open carry” and the common-law “going armed to the terror of the public” (which some of these people violated). Just bear with […]

  20. […] breaking a state law that bans guns at demonstrations, Dixon was charged with a second crime, called “going armed to the terror of the public.” The language sounds fusty because it is: It comes from a centuries-old English statute that […]

  21. I policed for thirty years and never questioned the right of someone to openly carry a holstered pistol unless it was onto property that the owner or government had forbidden weapons. Now if they were going down the street with an AK-47 or sawed off shotgun and that was terrifying people then that was when I charged for Going Armed to the Terror of the people. I would have thought no one questioned the constitutional right to bear reasonable weapons unconcealed. An yes for the enforcing the statute you have to make a judgement call on what a reasonable weapon is and then a judge will decide if you are correct.

  22. Just saw where the author put under the elements of the crime that any weapon would fit the statute. However after completing all the elements I was shocked to see this which abolished her previous statement about all weapons.

    “Relation to open carry. Because of the elements noted above, this offense would not apply to mere open carry. State v. Huntly, 25 N.C. 418, 422–23 (1843) (“[I]t is to be remembered that the carrying of a gun per se constitutes no offence. For any lawful purpose—either of business or amusement—the citizen is at perfect liberty to carry his gun. It is the wicked purpose—and the mischievous result—which essentially constitute the crime. He shall not carry about this or any other weapon of death to terrify and alarm, and in such manner as naturally will terrify and alarm, a peaceful people.”).”

    Guess that should clear up the can you open carry question. Still would like to get one of the old Farb books and see what he said because the statute was around and in his book.

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