MISSOULA, Mont. - When Montana lawmakers clarified the rules surrounding the justifiable use of lethal force in 2009, they outlined scenarios where a person is justified if he or she reasonably believes the use of force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm to himself or another, or to prevent a forcible felony.
Since that time, we've seen several cases where shooters walked away without prosecution.
September 12, 2012: Dan Fredenberg walked into a garage on Kalispell's northwest side to confront Brice Harper about an alleged romantic relationship. Harper shot the unarmed man three times. The shooting was not prosecuted.
September 15 2013: A 77 year old Missoula man shot a 22 year old intruder as he attempted to enter the man's home though a window. The victim lived and was prosecuted. The shooter was not charged.
March 17th, 2014: 39 year old Tobias Bishop was shot and killed by a Ravalli County homeowner after entering a residence through a broken window. The shooting was judged justifiable.
The law may be in for a challenge in the 2015 legislative session. Several lawmakers have publicly acknowledged their in intent to repeal the law, noting the number of cases where the law is applied.
Monday, State Representative Ellie Hill of Missoula submitted a draft request to do just that. The request came after a German foreign exchange student was killed by a homeowner in a Grant Creek neighborhood. Hill says, "human life is more important than a ‘reasonable belief' that you are protecting your property."
Montana Shooting Sports Association President, Gary Marbut, helped craft the State's law. He says use of lethal force is culturally acceptable in Montana. "People who would prey on others," says Marbut, "really need to know that that's acceptable in Montana. It's acceptable legally and culturally for people to be able to use force to defend themselves."
Knowing what circumstances justify lethal force can be difficult, especially in stressful situations. Marbut tells gun owners 'the instructions that come in the box' are not sufficient for personal protection. He teaches classes for gun owners about rights and responsibilities. To date, he's graduated nearly 4,000 Montana students.
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