Montana has similar “Stand Your Ground” Law to Florida

Law enforcement officials in Florida have charged Neighborhood Watch Volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin–almost a month and a half after the incident. The case created widespread outrage after Zimmerman was initially released with no charges filed. Zimmerman says he was acting in self-defense, and was released under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law.

21 states have ‘Stand Your Ground’ statutes, including Montana. These laws give wide latitude to using deadly force when someone feels he or she is in danger.

Republican Representative Krayton Kerns carried House Bill 229 back in the 2009 legislature. It added several new statutes to Montana law, which Kerns says reflect the spirit of the 2nd Amendment.

“No doubt, self-defense or self-preservation is a fundamental, natural right,” he said.

As for a “Stand your Ground” policy, the law says anybody lawfully carrying a weapon, like through a concealed carry license, may threaten the use of deadly force including drawing the weapon if that person “reasonably believes that the person or another person is threatened with bodily harm.”

When it comes to using force, the bill includes what’s known as a ‘Castle Doctrine.’ A person who is threatened with bodily injury or loss of life has no duty to retreat from a threat or summon law enforcement before using force.

“This law, the way it’s written makes it very easy for someone to talk his way out of being convicted,” said Acting Director of the group Montanan’s Against Gun Violence Robert McKelvey. He wrote an editorial in the Missoulian bringing up another piece of House Bill 229.   It says that in a criminal trial the state has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were not justified, if that defendant gives evidence of justifiable use of force—like self-defense. McKelvey says it would be very difficult to prove a shooting was not self-defense if the only surviving witness is the shooter.

After shooting Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman was released by claiming self-defense. Zimmerman says he was attacked by Martin. Police say he was bleeding from the nose and had gashes on the back of his head.

Again, a lot of the controversy around the Martin shooting is Zimmerman was released without being charged, without moving to a trial. Representative Krayton Kerns agrees with that move. We are innocent until proven guilty, he says.

“Which is more fair or which is a greater crime. To charge someone with a crime when in fact they were practicing self-defense or allowing them to go free because there was no evidence to convict him. Either way you have the tragedy that a young man has died but I’m not sure anything is going to change if Zimmerman were immediately locked up and he had to prove his innocence. That’s an exceptionally difficult thing to do, to prove a negative,” he said.

Regardless, George Zimmerman now sits in police custody in Florida charged with Second-Degree Murder.