Gun Politics Bad for Montana Democrats

by William Skink

There is an assumption among those supporting stricter gun control policies that the steady stream of gun-related tragedies will eventually translate into public support for policies that restrict access to firearms. That assumption is wrong, according to this Pew Research data from 2014:

For the first time in more than two decades of Pew Research Center surveys, there is more support for gun rights than gun control. Currently, 52% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns, while 46% say it is more important to control gun ownership.

Around the same time this survey data came out, Markus Kaarma killed a German exchange student in his garage with a shotgun. For one Missoula politician, this tragedy was a perfect opportunity to take a shot at the Castle Doctrine:

Less than 24 hours after a German exchange student was shot and killed inside a Missoula garage, a local legislator proposed a bill changing the language of Montana’s “castle doctrine,” the law justifying the use of lethal force in defense of an occupied structure.

Before details of this particular tragedy were even known, Rep. Hill rushed to capitalize on it by trying to reverse what Gary Marbut accomplished in 2009 when he successfully had specific language stricken from Montana’s self-defense statute. From the link:

Before that revision, Hill said, Montanans still had a constitutional right to defend their home, so long as they believed lethal force was necessary to stop an intruder who was entering the residence in a “violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner.”

That language was removed in 2009 at the request of lobbyist Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association. The bill was carried by Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel.

“Marbut basically changed it to shoot first and ask questions later,” said Hill. “Before 2009, a person had to exhibit some sort of violent, riotous or tumultuous behavior. Now that he’s removed those terms, you could shoot a wayward trick-or-treater. It lacks common sense.”

Actually, if we want to apply common sense, one would have to acknowledge that criminality doesn’t always approach its targeted victim in a violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner, like this gangsta wannabe. Removing that language doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Ultimately Rep. Hill’s attempt to take advantage of this tragic death evaporated when the criminal justice system did indeed find Kaarma’s actions to be criminal. He was convicted and is currently incarcerated. The Castle Doctrine defense didn’t work.

Gun control, as an issue championed by Montana Democrats, also won’t work. It might get individual politicians a few flashy headlines, but the trend is heading in the opposite direction.


Because people don’t feel secure.

Unpack that however you like. Some of it is harsh economic reality, some of it is media hype. Or maybe it’s the heat:

After being stuck inside all winter, many people anxiously await the arrival of the warm spring season weather. But, there are some who dread the potential increase in crimes caused by rising temperatures.

Tracy Siska, executive director at the Chicago Justice Project, says there is a correlation between rising temperatures and violent crimes.

“Violence increases, especially street violence, muggings, assaults, battery,” Siska says. “Across the boards most crimes increase.”

Siska speculates that the spike in crime may be due to the increase in the number of interactions that people have with one another during the warmer months. Warmer weather can bring together potential wrongdoers, victims, and belongings all in the same place.

Whatever factors are at play, the end result is more people contemplating and procuring the means of using lethal force to defend themselves. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing, nor am I totally enthused to be a part of it, but the experiences I’ve had the past few years have changed my thinking on personal defense.

From what I’ve been able to gather, that thinking is rather popular in Montana. As Montana Democrats work on their laundry list of issues to address, gun control might not be a good one to invest much political capital in.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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24 Responses to Gun Politics Bad for Montana Democrats

  1. Craig Moore says:

    When the criminals come to your home or otherwise confront you face to face, and you call 911, count the minutes and possibly hours before law enforcement arrives. Those criminals are frequent beneficiaries of turnstile justice and go back to the streets. Jesus Deniz Mendoza comes to mind. He was arraigned July 2 in Wyoming on drug and burglary charges and released on a signature bond. He proceeded to kill 2 people and wound a 3rd on the Crow reservation.

    When budget cuts are necessary it seems police and fire are first to see the axe when the #1 priority of government is to serve and protect its citizens. That leaves the affected populace with limited choices, flight, surrender to the attackers and their humanitarian goodness, or fight.

    • this may surprise you, Craig, but I think Missoula’s growth has ignored adding resources for law enforcement to its detriment. voters here will pass a parks bond for millions of dollars, but balk at any attempt to properly resource MPD and the Sheriff’s department. more growth means more people which means more conflict. the volume of 911 calls continues going up, but we haven’t added to patrol capacity in over a decade. burning out law enforcement isn’t good for anyone.

  2. dpogreba says:

    I think you make a lot of incorrect assumptions here. The biggest is this strange idea that “Montana Democrats” are in favor of serious gun control restrictions. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more than a handful of elected Montana Democrats who favor “gun control,” as the Pew polling envisions.

    What many Montana Democrats are resisting is the radical right’s redefinition of gun rights: that we should shoot instead of calling law enforcement, that people should be able to carry concealed weapons in bars, that teachers should be armed, and that employers should not have the right to restrict weapons on their property. Those positions are both right from a legal and public safety standpoint, but they’re also probably popular with most gun owners.

  3. petetalbot says:

    Where to start.

    The original language in Montana’s Castle Doctrine was just fine until Gary Marbut messed with it. He got rid of “violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner” as a reason to shoot someone. Let’s make it easier to kill a person, he says. I realize you have issues with Rep. Hill but in this instance, by attempting to reinstate the original language, she got it right. Markus Kaarma’s conviction in no way supports Marbut’s language change in the doctrine. Baiting and waiting, armed and ready to kill a 17-year-old exchange student who was looking for beer; of course he was found guilty. His conviction does not justify Marbut’s changes to Montana’s Castle Doctrine.

    Other cases aren’t so clearcut. A Kalispell woman’s lover shot and killed the lady’s husband:

    The county attorney chose not to prosecute because of the “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground.” Just think, if guns hadn’t of been involved someone might of ended up with a black eye or some broken ribs. There are plenty of similar stories out there.

    Think about some of Marbut’s other bills: Guns on campus? Silencers on rifles? Guns in bars and banks and public buildings? Mr. Skink, do you support moving in the opposite direction of restricting access to guns? Against waiting periods; registering the dangerous, mentally deranged; how about background checks at gun shows? Are these unreasonable requests that the Democratic Party should ignore?

    Anyway, you say, “the end result is more people contemplating and procuring the means of using lethal force to defend themselves” perhaps because of economic insecurities or perhaps because we’re just in violent times. This reasoning is right out of the NRA handbook. I don’t believe the answer to these troubling times is more guns. Just the opposite.

    It sounds like you’re telling the Democratic Party to stay away from unpopular issues at the same time you question whether the party has a spine. Maybe Democrats should also stay away from the Keystone XL pipeline or pro-choice or forest management or expanded coal mining – certainly wedge issues that divide Montanans.

    You’re saying, “look at the polls.” The polls also have Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential pack. Maybe we should all vote for him (or Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders).

    Some of us in the party believe fewer guns mean less gun violence and are working to that end. It is an uphill battle.

    • do you know what I support Pete? properly resourcing mental health services and ensuring law enforcement has the training to deal with unstable people. I support increasing access to treatment for people with addictions. those are better approaches to reducing gun violence and easier to frame in a state like Montana than saying you want to restrict access to guns, IMO.

      • petetalbot says:

        ” … properly resourcing mental health services and ensuring law enforcement has the training to deal with unstable people. I support increasing access to treatment for people with addictions.” Guess what? I support all those things, too. And, in some cases, restricting access to guns. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Let’s do everything we can to prevent gun violence.

        • I didn’t say they were mutually exclusive. to actually get things done it helps to find common ground. when you start talking about restricting access to guns, it polarizes the conversation, so it doesn’t matter how many facts and how much logic your arguments have.

          I also think that limiting your goal to preventing gun violence is looking at this with tunnel vision. guns are the most lethal and impulsive means of perpetuating violence, yes, but that doesn’t minimize the impacts of other forms of violence, like sexual assaults, that continue happening in Missoula with alarming frequency.

        • petetalbot says:

          If the public can’t even have a rational conversation about something like background checks at gun shows or a register for the seriously mentally disturbed, then we’ve been cowed by the likes of the NRA and Gary Marbut.

          And that’s a bit of misdirection, William, bringing sexual assault into the discussion. It’s a serious problem and needs addressing, but accusing me of “tunnel vision” because I’m not including it in a conversation about guns is disingenuous.

        • Craig Moore says:

          Pete – “Let’s do everything we can to prevent gun violence.”

          So, when 70% of gun violence directed at others is by offenders with previous major crimes, wouldn’t a good place to start be with addressing recidivism and turnstile justice? Why must innocent society be repeat customers for those perps while echoing the hollow words, “Let’s do everything we can to prevent gun violence?”

        • Pete, you advocate for spending lots of political capital on an issue that’s very unpopular outside of Missoula to close a few loopholes for one particular type of violence that’s a statistical outlier when it comes to the broad range of violence that people experience in their lives. I’m just pointing out that maybe there are other ways of approaching violence in our community that would be less polarizing and more effective.

        • petetalbot says:

          First, just because Missoula Rep. Hill introduced a language change to the Castle Doctrine, you’re saying that gun control is a Missoula issue that doesn’t resonate elsewhere in the state. There are plenty of people in Missoula who don’t agree with me (Gary Marbut for one) and others around the state who do. This is NOT a Missoula issue.

          And I’m not for expending unnecessary political capitol but at least at the legislative level, most legislators know their constituencies and advance bills accordingly. Ms. Hill knew what she was doing and it shouldn’t hurt her in her district. Other legislators will avoid the gun subject like the plague, knowing their districts (of course, there’ll be a few that will do whatever Gary Marbut tells them to do – let’s hope that hurts them).

          As “for one particular type of violence that’s a statistical outlier when it comes to the broad range of violence that people experience in their lives … ” I’m not sure how much of a statistical outlier it is but as violence goes, it’s pretty final.

          BTW, a couple questions you haven’t answered. Building the Keystone XL pipeline seems to be quite popular with many in this state. Should Democrats keep quiet on that since it’s so polarizing? There are so many comments at this site about what a spineless bunch we are. Pray tell, on what issues do we take a principled, even if it’s unpopular, stand?

        • I don’t think anyone really benefited from the garage slaying getting politicized less than 24 hours after it occurred, except maybe the politician who soaked up the media spotlight for a few news cycles. did anything, policy wise, get accomplished in the 2015 session to restrict firearm access? or, instead, was the opposition strengthened by the high-profile media attention?

        • petetalbot says:

          In my opinion, the 2015 legislature was a wash, gun-wise. Most of Gary Marbut’s whacky gun bills died in committee or on the floor, so I don’t think there was much blowback from any news stories about gun control bills. As you’re aware, news cycles are just that – cycles. Here today and gone tomorrow. Especially at the Montana Legislature, where a dozen new bills are introduced every day. (And try tracking important bills in the next legislative session, now that most of the capitol reporters have been canned, but I digress.)

          Of course, no legislation restricting access to guns passed either. So, there you have it.

          UPDATE: After a quick review of gun legislation, one of Marbut’s bills got through. From the NRA website:

          “Governor Steve Bullock (D) vetoed Senate Bill 295, NRA-supported legislation to allow the use of suppressors while hunting. At the same time, Governor Bullock signed into law his own version of SB 295, House Bill 250. While HB 250 contains language less clear and concise than SB 295, the result is much the same: Montana hunters are now permitted to use legally owned suppressors while hunting.”

          Thank God! Now we can hunt critters James Bond-style.

      • petetalbot says:

        Sure, Craig, by all means, let’s add recidivism and turnstile justice into the mix, along with Skink’s mental health and law enforcement suggestions, and some of my ideas. The more issues that are addressed, the better.

  4. Craig Moore says:

    I would be curious for Montana Dems to declare their support for VA and SS recipients being deprived of the right to purchase and own a firearm if they are deemed financially incompetent to manage their benefits?

    • petetalbot says:

      Don’t see that happening, Craig.

      • Rob Kailey says:

        Though Gary Marbut would disagree, I am a strong supporter of second amendment rights. And I find that a stunningly good idea.

        A potentially large group within Social Security are people who, in the language of federal gun laws, are unable to manage their own affairs due to “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.”

        Reblicants, nationwide including here ion Montana consider it a good idea to drug test everyone on public assistance. That’s been shown to be a waste of money every place it has been implemented. Rational people choosing between food and drugs are going to choose food. But somehow, it is deemed smart to let irrational people purchase items whose only use is to put damaging holes in things, both inanimate and alive?

        Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with Lizard that any thing that smacks of ‘gun control’ is a political loser in Montana. I also agree with him that ‘we’ have no intention or even desire to deal with conditions of mental illness. Those two walk hand in hand. Pete is correct in pointing out that the right path is one that deals with both, whether it is politically popular or not.

        • Craig Moore says:

          Except, if one is deemed in need of assistance of their financial affairs, the “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness” is imputed for VA recipients without any due process review. The burden is placed on the recipients to demonstrate otherwise as best they can if they can even find a competent forum to hear their appea. Can’t imagine the same standard and practices wouldn’t be applied fto SS recipients.

        • Rob Kailey says:

          Loopholes and consequences only make for bad legislation if we refuse to deal with them. As you and I have discussed previously, the problem we face is enforcement of the legislation. That includes process review. So the question is hanging out there like week old fish: would we as a legal culture prefer to err on the side of Ruger’s sales or on the side of people who shouldn’t have guns not having guns.

        • Craig Moore says:

          I agree with keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill who are a danger to themselves and others. However, I don’t agree with a a shortcut process that equates inadequate personal financial management with such illness and NOT provide a process on the govt’s dime to actually demonstrate such illness with the govt bearing the burden of proof.

      • Rob Kailey says:

        There is a reason that what federal law says is in quotes. There is nothing there to suggest that people who can’t manage a budget fall into the suspect.

  5. steve kelly says:

    The freedom and democracy deficit extends to all rights articulated in the Bill of Rights. #2 might be the last to go thanks to a strong gun lobby and citizen vigilance, but there seems to be little interest in preserving the others with equal vigor. FYI, gun-caused deaths doesn’t make the Top 10 causes of death in America.

  6. Big Swede says:

    So these are the people you want tracking gun purchases?

    “On May 4, 2015 Nadir Soofi and Elton Simpson drove from Phoenix to Garland, Texas to carry out a terror attack against conservatives hosting a Mohammed cartoon contest. When they arrived on scene, they were immediately shot and killed by police after opening fire outside the building.

    It turns out Soofi purchased his gun under the Holder Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious back in 2010. As a reminder, Operation Fast and Furious was a program that ran from 2009-2010 in which federal agents purposely allowed the sale of thousands of weapons, including handguns, AK-47s and .50-caliber rifles, to known drug cartels. Agents deliberately allowed weapons to be trafficked and lost in Mexico. Now, Barack Obama’s bloodiest scandal has hit home once again.”-Katie Pavlich.

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