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‘Castle doctrine’: When it’s legal to kill
Under Montana’s “castle doctrine,” a man’s home is his castle, and may be defended by force.
 

Brice Harper of Kalispell, Mont., had good reason to fear Dan Fredenberg, said Jack Healy in The New York Times. The 24-year-old Harper was seeing the 40-year-old Fredenberg’s young wife as their marriage crumbled. An angry Fredenberg went looking for his wife one recent afternoon, and found her car at Harper’s house. Harper got his pistol, and warned Fredenberg to stay away. As the unarmed Fredenberg stalked up the driveway, he was “unwittingly walking onto a legal landscape reshaped by laws that have given homeowners new leeway to use force inside their own homes.” Harper shot him three times; Fredenberg died the next day. In a decision that caused a furor, authorities did not charge Harper with any crime. Under Montana’s “castle doctrine,” a man’s home is his castle, and may be defended by force if he “reasonably believes” he’s about to be assaulted.

The decision not to prosecute is “crazy making,” said Emily Bazelon in Slate.com. Harper could have safely shut his door in Fredenberg’s face, and called the police. Instead he gunned him down, emboldened by a law that National Rifle Association lobbyists have successfully installed in more than 20 states. Like the Florida “stand your ground” law that led to Trayvon Martin’s killing, “castle doctrine” laws authorize people to pull the trigger if they feel threatened. You might as well call them the “go ahead and shoot” laws. The law was well-intentioned, said the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake in an editorial, but relying on a person’s belief that he’s in danger is “just too subjective,” and opens the door to abuses. To legally kill a neighbor he hates, for example, a trigger-happy gun owner need only taunt the man into taking a step toward him. “As currently worded, the law provides a license to murder.”

Defending your home is not murder, said Robert VerBruggen in NationalReview.com. In the Montana case, Harper had previously been confronted by Fredenberg at a local restaurant, leading to an altercation a bouncer had to break up; Fredenberg had left no doubt of his violent intentions. On the day of the shooting, Fredenberg was drinking, and as he advanced up the driveway, Harper warned him several times that he had a gun. He fired “only when Fredenberg refused to stop.” The shooting was entirely justified, and so is the “castle doctrine.” Americans have every right “to stand up to home intruders, rather than cowering from them.”

 

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