When is Self-Defense Permissible in Montana?

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A few news stories caught my eye this evening, drawing attention to the absurdity of self-defense laws in Montana. Back in 2009, the Montana Legislature passed and Governor Schweitzer signed HB 228, a law that, among other things, created a “policy that a defender has no duty to summon help or flee before using force to defend, in any place.”

From Corvallis, we have the story of a man who shot and killed an intruder he claims was breaking into his home. While he has made no determination about charges yet, Ravalli County Sherriff Chris Hoffman suggested the law would protect the homeowner:

“First of all, I have no idea yet if the castle doctrine law is germane to this incident,” Hoffman said. “But my interpretation is a person has every right to protect him or herself in their home if they fear for their life. They are in no obligation to hide out or call 9-1-1. If they are in fear for their life, they have every right to defend themselves or use deadly force.”

In Sunburst, we have a different case in which a man has been charged with a hit and run negligent homicide charge. Before the man allegedly ran over a victim, he was attacked in a parking lot by the man:

All parties agree Levi Rowell confronted Santoro in the parking lot, edging into the space between where his and Santoro’s truck were parked. Both Gallup and Tiffany Rowell followed behind, squeezing into narrow a space behind Santoro’s open, passenger-side door.

According to the state’s affidavit, Santoro and Potter told investigators that Rowell grabbed Santoro by the neck and began choking him.

When questioned by Toole County authorities, Santoro offered a defense that was not unlike those who argued for the expanded Castle Doctrine at the 2009 Legislature:

“I hope the (expletive) is dead, hope he’s (expletive) dead, hope he’s paralyzed … from the neck,” Santoro allegedly said, according to the affidavit. “I was done. I was done. … They were calling me out.”

Then later, “The man should never have started choking me out in my own (expletive) car … So what I did was throw it in reverse, and (evaded) the scene …. I don’t see what’s so (expletive) wrong with that.”

My post isn’t meant to suggest that these situations are precisely analogous or to evaluate the guilt of either man, but the simultaneous reporting of these two stories makes clear the problems of a self-defense doctrine that relies exclusively on a person’s own perception that he faces a threat. It seems fair to ask if Mr. Santoro would be free of any charges if he had simply fired a gun rather than driven his truck aggressively at the person he perceived to be a threat.

The law simply encourages violent responses, especially with a gun. Whether it was the Wal-Mart worker who shot a fellow employee in the forehead, the man in the Flathead who shot another man who had not even attacked him, or the still troubling shooting near Wolf Creek, it seems the law sold to Montanans as a means of protecting their safety and liberty has just endangered their lives.

It’s time for the Legislature to revisit this absurd law—and remember that the purpose of the law has to be to protect the idea of civil society, not encourage senseless violence. Let’s hope the 2015 session has more legislators interested in serving the vast majority of Montanans, not the NRA.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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dpogrebaAnniecOakley is my mammaJeffLarry Kralj, Environmental RangersBillings Dad Recent comment authors
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Greg Strandberg
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I saw the Corvallis story on the Missoulian tonight, don’t know much about the others. What am I going to do if a guy’s coming in my house at 4 AM? I don’t have a gun, so that’s not an option. I guess I’d have to grab an object, that is if he starts coming toward me, which I thought the article kind of implied. Of course since I don’t have a gun the chances of me killing the guy would probably be much smaller. I also think the last thing we want here in Montana is anything like the… Read more »

NamelessRange
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NamelessRange

I’m with Greg. If I imagine that I am home in bed, my wife and son in the room with me, and my daughter down the hall, and I hear someone breakin in I can: Scenario 1: Run down the hall, get my daughter, run back to my room, lock the door and call the police. This act risks the trespasser getting to my family before I get back to my room. Scenario 2: Or, I can unlock my quicksafe, send my wife down to my daughter’s room with our son. Confront the trespasser with a firearm, and almost certainly… Read more »

Abe Froman
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Abe Froman

Im going off memory here but Im pretty sure the law passed by the teabaggers only requires you to be “reasonably sure” deadly force is necessary to prevent an “assault”. An “assault” is not necessarily serious body harm or threat of injury.

NamelessRange
Guest
NamelessRange

Edit: I pick Scenario 2 every time

Big Swede
Guest
Big Swede

Oh please dear leaders tell us when we can defend ourselves. We await your decree. I like the Castle Doctrine. Maybe it’ll stop this sheet. “In August 2006, Collin County (Texas) police obtained a warrant to search John Quinn’s home based on information that Quinn’s son might be in possession of controlled substances. The warrant did not authorize police to enter the residence without knocking and announcing their entry. Nevertheless, based solely on the suspicion that there were firearms in the Quinn household, the SWAT team forcibly broke into Quinn’s home after he had gone to bed and proceeded to… Read more »

Vlad Lenin
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Vlad Lenin

in Pogrebaland, the great international commune there will be no violence as the government will be able to control the minds of criminals. Here my guns, why would I need them when Don becomes Prime minister.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
Guest
Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

Um, Vlady, couple’a points, cupcake. You would be speaking GERMAN and goose stepping right now if it had not been for Russian guns! Study your history, vladdy, instead of farting first and getting smacked second!

And secondly, vLady, post your arsenal and then I’ll post mine! We’ll see whose is bigger! Not all libs hate guns!

But hey, you prolly would ENJOY goose stepping, right??

Don Pogreba
Guest

This is why arguing with gundamentalists is so ridiculous. They’ve carved out such an extremist position that any sensible regulation is automatically equated with confiscation.

It’s idiotic–and destroys public policy.

Big Swede
Guest
Big Swede

Public Policy? Would our Constitution be lumped in with public policy?

At this moment the State of CT is compiling registration documents in order to go door to door to arrest and confiscate newly illegal guns and magazines.

Who’s idiotic?

Mark Tokarski
Guest

Hey Cinderblock: Without even looking I can tell you that someone is playing with your natural paranoia here. No one is coming for your guns.

In 1790, when arms were creatively unsophisticated and the government had no advantage, the Right to Keep and Bear made a difference. Not anymore. The government as such a mighty arsenal that no one cares about you or your pea shooters.

Craig Moore
Guest
Mark Tokarski
Guest

Really.

The story may be accurate in every detail and also be insignificant and anecdotal. No one is coming for your pea shooters! They ain’t afraid of you. They have helicopter gunships.

Does it ever occur to you that you’re being manipulated?

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore

Since you have taken to renaming commenters like Swede, how about we just call you the Scolding Schoolmarm given your condescending angry arrogance towards those that don’t embrace your views?

Now Scolding Schoolmarm why did the feds collect the customer records with names and addresses? Are they going to show up for “knock knock” jokes like the NSA?

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore

Here’s video of the feds taking a sledge hammer to the store’s safe. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KFjjLXDZ4E#t=133

Mark Tokarski
Guest

It’s anecdotal! You do know that if they are worried about you you’ll find you cannot get on an airplane, use a credit card or access a bank account. While you’ve been all paranoid about your gun, the used 9/11 to completely wrap the national security state around you. You’re cooked, gun or no gun.

And viewpoints are not like assholes, everyone having one. There are valid ones and invalid ones. Whether you agree with mine or not has no bearing on their validity.

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore

Well Scolding Schoolmarm, you don’t possess the insight and judgement to empower you to declare what is and is not valid. You have an opinion, nothing more.

BTW, here is what the feds are declaring to be a firearm. http://media.townhall.com/_townhall/uploads/2014/3/17/5.png

Mark Tokarski
Guest

If I write “anecdotal” three more times, will it do any good?

I regard activity surrounding gun ownership as a mere feint that keesp you distracted. Meanwhile, because Americans are so afraid of supposed terrorists, your important freedoms have been dismantled. You can have your pea shooter. Everything else is gone.

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore

Dear Scolding Schoolmarm, when is a hunk of machined metal or polymer not a firearm?

Big Swede
Guest
Big Swede

Thanks Craig, great links.

Scolding Schoolmarm-like it.

SS for short.

Mark Tokarski
Guest

There is just no reaching you guys. You could be cinder block bookends.

The Polish Wolf
Guest
The Polish Wolf

Mark logic takes another beating. Millions of heavily armed Americans are not the concern of the US government because drones, but a few thousands armed Black Nationalists were what really scared the government into passing civil rights legislation.

Mark Tokarski
Guest

Hey PW! How’s it going Good to hear from you. I see your incuriosity is driving you to distraction again.

The Polish Wolf
Guest
The Polish Wolf

I am exceedingly curious, Mark – curious about how you reconcile those two points of view. On the one hand, you’ve insisted that it was only the justified fear of a violent revolution that got LBJ to pass the civil rights act, and yet now you claim that the government has nothing to fear from guns. Which is it?

The Polish Wolf
Guest
The Polish Wolf

“No one is coming for your pea shooters! They ain’t afraid of you. They have helicopter gunships. ”

I’m pretty sure immediately after invading Iraq, with helicopter gunships and all, the US Army still felt the need to crack down on the sale of ‘pea shooters’. I don’t buy into this grand conspiracy to disarm the American public, but then, it makes more sense than the contradictory nonsense you respond with.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Hey PW! Consider this: “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.” (Clemens). You appear to me, along with Pogie, to lack moral courage. “The lowest depth of misery is to see people who know better going along with a lie.” (Mort Sahl) As a Democrat who appears to conveniently forget to be curious, you strike me as one who willingly goes along with lies in order to be in the acceptable mainstream. This again speaks to moral courage, which you appear to lack. Have a great day! Thanks for… Read more »

The Polish Wolf
Guest
The Polish Wolf

Keeping the streak alive! It’s been how many weeks since you’ve addressed anything I’ve said? Not a bad strategy considering the constancy with which your arguments end up looking ridiculous when examined, but part of you knows that avoiding the issues is as good as admitting you’ve lost them, right?

Vlad Lenin
Guest
Vlad Lenin

Compensating for something eh Lar-bear? Missing my sarcasm relating to Don’s no guns = “good of civil society” delusion article?

Don Pogreba
Guest

Reading comprehension is a virtue. Can you point out where in my piece, or anywhere, ever, that there should be no guns?

Pretend to be a rational actor.

Vlad Lenin
Guest
Vlad Lenin

How about…… “It seems fair to ask if Mr. Santoro would be free of any charges if he had simply fired a GUN rather than driven his truck aggressively at the person he perceived to be a threat.The law simply encourages violent responses, especially with a GUN. Whether it was the Wal-Mart worker who SHOT a fellow employee in the forehead, the man in the Flathead who SHOT another man who had not even attacked him, or the still troubling shooting near Wolf Creek” What are you implying with this rhetoric?? Hmm, puzzling. I didn’t realize my cognitive abilities are… Read more »

Vlad Lenin
Guest
Vlad Lenin

I agree, gun ownership and sensible regulation could be a positive reality for people. However, the scope of this regulation is really a slippery slope as beyond protection of life and property it becomes a question of how much you trust your masters (my heir, comrade Stalin in the 20th century). While Americans may have a less realistic fear of a tyrannical government than those in mother Russia, history suggests these concerns may be rational. Furthermore in the age of drones, the NSA, and further concerns for privacy originating from the federal government. I see no reason why your people… Read more »

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
Guest
Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

“Furthermore in the age of drones, the NSA, and further concerns for privacy originating from the federal government. I see no reason why your people should be further restricted regarding their own protection” I HEAR YA, VLADY! But I have a question for you. Ever try to shoot down a drone? Or someone or something from the NSA spying on you? Problem IS, vlady, when you try to shoot to protect your privacy, you JUST might shoot your privates off! A gun ain’t much good against a tiny drone flying at ten thousand feet. And who KNOWS what the NSA… Read more »

LongtimeRez
Guest
LongtimeRez

I own guns but think your duty is do whatever you can to avoid using a gun in the outlandish scenarios colorfully described in these comments. In the moment, the guy holding the gun always wins. That doesn’t mean a jury can’t logically assess an unfortunate situation when cooler heads prevail. There wasn’t anything wrong with the “old” law.

Big Swede
Guest
Big Swede

Judged by 12 vs. carried by 6.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
Guest
Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

Drink a sixer, plug with twelve!

HEY, it was self-defense!

Pete Talbot
Guest
Pete Talbot

Geez Don, haven’t been getting enough abuse lately? Just write a post about the Castle Doctrine or background checks, and watch the fur fly. One of the biggest growth industries in Western Montana is making ammo and specialty items for gun people. Discussing reasonable gun ownership is an uphill battle here but I appreciate your candor.

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore
Mark Tokarski
Guest

Thick, like the eyebrows on a 92 year-old Cossack.

Pogie
Guest

Yeah, I thought guns and God were a nice way to simmer down some of the online conflict I’ve had in the past couple of weeks. 🙂

Mark Tokarski
Guest

Isn’t that reverse trolling?

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore

Dear Scolding Schoolmarm, your proclivity to fantasize about a 92 year-old Cossack is something that would make even Playboy’s Granny cringe. http://therumpus.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/KGrHqEOKpwFGH6E3UBRzjIbB1lg60_3.jpg

Billings Dad
Guest
Billings Dad

Have you ever picked up a firearm POGIE ?

Ever fired one ?

Pogie
Guest

How many guns does a person need to own to have an opinion on the law?

Billings Dad
Guest
Billings Dad

There is no qualification to having an opinion about gun ownership, unless it’s coming from someone who’s not familiar with them, and has irrational fears about them, like they are some kind of evil, living, breathing animal, just waiting to jump off my wall and attack someone. I suspected that you were of that type when you asked about significant gun legislation. Google up the 1994 Crime Bill, where President Clinton started banning guns by evil looks, and features, and magazines by how many rounds they held. The law was a failure, all that happened was stockpiling, and artificially raising… Read more »

The Polish Wolf
Guest
The Polish Wolf

You have a funny definition of failure, Billings. In 1993 there were over 24,000 homicides in the US. In 1994 there were 23,000, in 1995 there were 21,000, and since 1996 the number has never gone above 20,000, even as the population increases. I can’t prove the law was a success based on those stats, but it’s awfully hard to say definitively that it was a failure!

The Polish Wolf
Guest
The Polish Wolf

And by the way, while I actually kind of disagree with him, Pogie is not at all falling into the mindset you are describing. You see, someone who fears GUNS doesn’t believe that the efforts of the criminal justice system can effectively fight crime – hence the emphasis on controlling the product, not the user. But what Pogreba is describing here is an effort to control what people do with guns.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
Guest
Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

He did WHAT??

Pubbies being Pubbies! Their minds are a terrible thing of waste!

http://crooksandliars.com/2014/03/rwnj-obama-murdered-everyone-flight-370

Billing dad, these are you people! Embrace them!

Billings Dad
Guest
Billings Dad

Larry I’m sure you qualified Expert with the M45 & M16 in AF Boot camp – and I’ll be willing to bet that you do not fear weapons.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Here’s a good article regarding this debate; Missoula, MT –-(Ammoland.com)- Conventional and alternate media in Montana have been abuzz in the past week with discussion about Montana self-defense laws. Some think existing laws are too lax and need tightening. Some think existing laws are too restrictive and should be relaxed. Far too many misunderstand existing laws and make irrelevant or nonsensical claims. Allow me to clarify some misconceptions and gray areas. Did House Bill 228 in 2009 create the “castle doctrine” in Montana? No. What is generically called a “castle doctrine” law in other places is called “defense of an… Read more »

AnniecOakley is my mamma
Guest
AnniecOakley is my mamma

Moral of the story? Don’t [email protected]$ withh people you wont get shot! We don’t need a bunch of. Liberal pussies letting our nation turn to crap! An eye for an eye!

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