Self Defense Bill Clears House

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The House is backing a plan to clarify self defense laws and expand the right to carry concealed weapons, despite criticism it is unnecessary in Montana.

The bill would let people carry concealed weapons inside of city limits — even without a permit to do so.

It would make clear that those who use a weapon in self defense are innocent until police prove that the situation indeed did not warrant self defense, and makes certain that everyone has the right to self defense without an obligation to first run away.

Supporters of House Bill 228 said the law needs to be changed to reflect the gun-rights beliefs of Montanans.

“We’re living by these rules already, this just puts it in code,” said Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel.

But some Democrats, on the losing side of a 58-42 preliminary vote, said the proposal is an unnecessary wedge issue driven by gun groups.

House Majority Leader Margarett Campbell, D-Poplar, said she has voted for gun bills in the past and even received good scores from gun groups.

“I see our House becoming divided here — I see it becoming divided by powerful gun lobbyists,” Campbell said. “We don’t need any of these bills, don’t let anyone pressure you. The gun laws of Montana are among the freest in the union, probably the freest in the world.”

Other opponents, backed by police organizations, argued House Bill 228 would make it easier for criminals to get away with intimidation and assault. They also said it would make it easier for domestic violence suspects to claim they were acting in self defense.

“The sheriffs and county attorneys are very disappointed by the actions of the House today,” said Jim Smith, who represents both organizations.

He said the proposal could lead to a “vigilante society.”

Rep. Kendall Van Dyk, whose own more limited self defense legislation is stuck in committee, tried unsuccessfully on the House floor to take out the provision in Kern’s bill that would let anyone carry a concealed weapon inside city limits even if they don’t have a special permit.

“Not everybody needs to be carrying for no reason at all. It is a terrible idea,” Van Dyk said.

But some Democrats supported, including Rep. Deborah Kottel, D-Great Falls, supported it. Kottel said she believes as an advocate of civil liberties that the burden of proof needs to be placed on police to prove that self-defense was not warranted.

“I will always stand for the rights of the innocent,” she said. “It should not be easy for prosecutors to take a way a liberty interest.”

The Senate has already endorsed its own self-defense legislation, which simply makes it clear that people have a right to use self defense in their homes without first trying to run away. It is going to the House, wile the Senate takes Kerns version.

Kerns said he expects the Senate may seek to trim back some of the initiatives in his bill. The Republican said he is open to some fine-tuning.

“If we need to tweak some of it again, let’s do it,” Kerns said.

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