Self Defense Bills Advance at Legislature

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The Senate overwhelmingly endorsed a plan Friday that clarifies Montanans have no obligation to retreat before using deadly force to protect their homes.

Supporters said the so-called “castle doctrine” legislation is needed to make sure the law is clear on the issue. They said Montanans already understand that it is legal to shoot intruders, and lawmakers need to make sure law specifically reflects that notion.

“It does one thing and one thing only: It says you don’t have to retreat in an occupied structure when you have the right to use deadly force,” said Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman. “You shouldn’t have to run when your life is threatened.”

That bill has the blessing of police and prosecutors.

Another bill goes a step further. It states Montanans have no obligation to retreat anywhere — in their home or elsewhere — before using deadly force in the face of a threat. It is more controversial with police.

It was pushed out of a House committee Friday on a 10-8 vote, and will face more scrutiny as it advances. The House Judiciary Committee is also waiting to take action on a version of the “castle doctrine” similar to Jent’s bill, which has cruised through the Senate.

Three Democrats did vote against Jent’s bill.

Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, said that loaded guns in homes cause more problems than they solve. She also said the “powerful gun lobby” bullies lawmakers into such legislation.

“I am troubled by the way we are all pressed not to have reasonable debate on the issue,” she said, noting one gun group gave her an F- rating before she even had a legislative record. “That score will likely be continued now that I have stood up and made these comments.”

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