For a party that claims to represent law and order, the Montana Republican Party has certainly done some real damage to the ability of law enforcement officers to arrest and prosecutors to convict those who kill other people using firearms. As a result of 2009 Legislature’s passage of HB 228, it’s very difficult for prosecutors to convict anyone who asserts “self-defense” as a justification for killing someone else.
In the 2009 session, TEA Party legislators like Krayton Kerns carried a bill for Gary Marbut and the NRA which made it much easier to kill without fear of conviction. Back then, Marbut sent out a celebratory e-mail criticizing “the few law enforcement administrators and prosecutors who are so afraid of armed citizens that they lied and claimed end-of-life-on-Earth in opposing HB 228.”
The resulting cases of unprosecuted gun assaults was more than predictable, it was predicted by those who testified against the bill back in 2009. As jhwygirl noted back then, the list of opponents included law enforcement officials and those who protect the rights of those threatened by violence. Those in opposition included:
- Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
- Montana Association of Chiefs of Police
- Montana Police Protective Association
- Montana County Attorney’s Association
- Montana Sheriff’s and Peace Officers Association
- Montana Human Rights Network
- The Associated Students of Montana State University
- The Associated Students of the University of Montana
Even the typically very conservative Daily Interlake opined that the revised Montana castle doctrine law would make it easier to get away with murder:
As worded now, there is just too much opportunity for manipulation of the law by those who wish to do evil. For instance, it would be possible to taunt someone into attacking you in your own home for the sole purpose of taking that opportunity to “justifiably” kill your enemy. No one is saying that happened in this case, but as currently worded, the law provides a license to murder for those who are duplicitous.
And that’s precisely what we’re seeing across Montana. Given the cover of near-immunity from prosecution, people are asserting self-defense after shooting someone rather than walking away and resolving the conflict peacefully. Laws exist not to fulfill macho fantasies of middle-aged legislators who imagine themselves on the dusty plains of the Old West, but to ensure that civility comes before violence, and that the latter is only used as a last resort.
It’s time to change Montana’s law back to one that actually discourages people from using their weapons instead of their words, unless we want to see more of this violence:
A 35-year-old Billings man charged with shooting another man to death early Sunday said he went to confront the victim over a pit bull puppy and a gun he believed the victim had stolen.
Bearcomesout said he chambered a round in his .45-caliber pistol and Santiago turned to face him, court records said.
“The defendant said he believed Santiago was reaching for a weapon,” the affidavit said. “The defendant then shot Santiago repeatedly.”
However, Dutton said the alleged shooter was the only person to witness it. Dutton said the alleged gunman’s wife called authorities but only heard shots fired. “When a person makes the assertion of self defense, you have to prove that it wasn’t,” Dutton said.
That night, in a doorway at the back of his garage, Mr. Harper aimed a gun at the unarmed Mr. Fredenberg, fired and struck him three times. Mr. Fredenberg crumpled to the garage floor, a few feet from Mr. Harper. He was dead before morning.
Had Mr. Fredenberg been shot on the street or sidewalk, the legal outcome might have been different. But on Oct. 9, the Flathead County attorney decided not to prosecute, saying that Montana’s “castle doctrine” law, which maintains that a man’s home is his castle, protected Mr. Harper’s rights to vigorously defend himself there. The county attorney determined that Mr. Harper had the right to fetch his gun from his bedroom, confront Mr. Fredenberg in the garage and, fearing for his safety, shoot him.
A man who police said shot his Wal-Mart co-worker in a dispute over the length of a work break has been released from custody because his actions may be protected by Montana’s recently enacted “castle doctrine” law.
The shooting, which took place Monday evening, is under investigation by the Billings Police Department and could still result in charges. But Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos said language in the “castle doctrine” bill passed during the last session of the Montana Legislature required him to release the shooter until more information becomes available.