What Hath Gary Marbut Wrought? A World Where Armed Intruders Can Use the Castle Doctrine Defense

Okay, so I can’t blame Montana Shooting Sports Association President Gary Marbut for this directly, but a decision by a Texas judge to allow an armed intruder to use the “Castle Doctrine” defense is the logical extension of the gundamentalist arguments that he brings to the Montana Legislature every session.

First, the facts. Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer shot and killed her neighbor, Botham Jean, who lived one floor above her in her apartment building. Even though Guyger managed to climb an extra floor, ignored a doormat that was not her own in front of the door and did not appear to perform CPR after killing Jean, her defense rests on the Castle Doctrine “that says if you’re in your “castle” — home, car or business — any deadly force used is presumed to be reasonable.”

That defense, codified in Texas law in 2007, means that to win the case, the defense need only show that Guyger believed she was in her apartment and her life was in danger when she shot and killed an unarmed man.

The judge’s decision to allow the jury to consider a Castle Doctrine defense for someone who broke into another person’s home is absurd, and it’s a logical extension of the law Marbut and his MSSA wrote for Montana.

In 2009, Marbut wrote changes into the MCA passed by the Legislature that impose an even more dangerous legal standard in Montana. Because of Marbut and the MSSA, a shooter does not even need to be defending her own home or property.

As a result, a Missoula man believed he was entitled to murder a teenaged foreign exchange student and other people who have shot and even killed fellow Montanans have gone free because they “feared” for their lives.

In 2012, a man who was having an affair with a woman shot her husband three times, killing him. He wasn’t charged with a crime even though the Flathead County Attorney wanted to and the widow got a restraining order over the violent, threatening behavior of the man who had killed her husband.

In just the first five years after Marbut convinced legislators to change the law, the “stand your ground provision” was used at least a dozen times, undermining efforts to prosecute killers.

The law Marbut has written is absurdly dangerous, as the case in Texas demonstrates. If a trained police officer can argue that she reasonably believed she needed to kill someone in his own apartment, what will prevent future shooters from asserting they are in the right when they kill? Given the fears Marbut and his cohorts stir up about federal law enforcement officers, what will prevent someone from killing an FBI or ATF agent serving a warrant?

The court’s decision in Texas offers a stark reminder that gun laws that normalize violence and empower people to fire recklessly will encourage people to use their firearms recklessly. The absolutists and ahistorical interpretation of the Second Amendment that Gary Marbut peddles everywhere from our schools to our legislative chambers only increases the danger we all face, and it must be rejected.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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  • Since Tester or all dems do not support building the wall and not doing their job of writing realistic immigration laws, thus not choking off bad illegal immigrants and meth flowing into the US and Montana. I will always support use of lethal force anywhere one fears for their life whether it be at a gas station or in your home. So use your head, what is the alternative? I think you would be very surprised on how many Montana women carry. Do you have a wife or daughter. Can you physical fight off a knife?

    I do feel bad for Amber Guyger as this was a very tragic accident. Can you imagine what she has been through as being a Dallas police officer and now this.

    • I’ll reserve most of my sympathy for the murdered man, though I am sure Ms. Guyger went through some tough moments.

      And the idea that we’re all safer when people believe using their guns is the best answer is lunacy.

    • Many many of us do not carry a gun.
      Oh, I don’t hope to kill an undocumented Mexican meth trafficker in his home as I don’t think I’ll stumble in there accidentally. If I do, that’s on me.

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