Montana’s Self-Defense Law Clarified

By Gary Marbut

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Montana's Self-Defense Law Clarified
Montana Shooting Sports Association
Montana Shooting Sports Association

Missoula, MT –-( Conventional and alternate media in Montana have been abuzz in the past week with discussion about Montana self-defense laws.

Some think existing laws are too lax and need tightening. Some think existing laws are too restrictive and should be relaxed. Far too many misunderstand existing laws and make irrelevant or nonsensical claims.

Allow me to clarify some misconceptions and gray areas.

Did House Bill 228 in 2009 create the “castle doctrine” in Montana? No. What is generically called a “castle doctrine” law in other places is called “defense of an occupied structure” in Montana, and is codified at 45-3-103. The castle doctrine is a very old concept. It came from English common law — the basis for the American legal system.

William Pitt declared in debate in Parliament in 1763, “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown.” Every man’s house was his castle, he said.

Montana’s 45-3-103 was swept into the Montana Codes Annotated from the older Revised Codes of Montana in 1947. This law was likely in the older Montana “Bannack Statutes” of territorial days, even before the R.C.M. So our “castle doctrine” is an old concept that has stood the test of time.

Does Montana’s castle doctrine allow a person to kill anyone in their home who the homeowner has a disagreement with or dislikes? No! This law allows a person to use force only when the person believes “use of force is necessary to prevent or terminate the other person’s unlawful entry into or attack upon an occupied structure.” Note: This does not include “lethal force,” such as a firearm.

Lethal force is defined as an amount of force likely to cause serious bodily injury or death, which would include using a firearm.

Lethal force may only be used legally in defense of an occupied structure when the person believes “force is necessary to prevent an assault upon the person or another then in the occupied structure” or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. A felony is any crime punishable by one year or more in the state prison. A “forcible felony” is any felony where force or threat of force is used.

Thus, the circumstances in which a person may legally use lethal force, such as a firearm, under Montana’s castle doctrine is a fairly narrow and legally defined set of conditions.

I have trained more than 4,000 students, in classrooms and on the range in handgun self-defense classes. I advise my students that it is always better, if it can be done safely and with sound tactics, to not use lethal force. Whenever lethal force is used, everyone involved suffers to one extent or another — physically, legally, financially, emotionally and/or psychologically.

However, I tell my students, there certainly are times when the price will be higher not to use lethal force than to use lethal force. It may cost a person his or her life to not adequately defend that life.

If a person has no other choice but to use lethal force, then it is critical to know the rules, much more than I can convey here. That’s why I strongly recommend to those who have not taken my class that they should never settle for the training that came in the box with their gun.

If you own a firearm that you may depend on for self defense, take a class. Study. Learn. Be informed!

Gary Marbut is the author of the book, “Gun Laws of Montana.” He is accepted in state and federal courts as an expert concerning self defense and use of force, and is president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, which advocates for gun owners in Montana.

Gary Marbut, presidentMontana Shooting Sports Associationwww.mtssa.orgauthor, Gun Laws of Montana

About Montana Shooting Sports Association:MSSA is the primary political advocate for Montana gun owners. Visit:

  • 2 thoughts on “Montana’s Self-Defense Law Clarified

    1. I suggest everyone who caries a firearm or even considers using Lethal Force to consider a few things. “Immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent” This is a very important things to remember. While we would all like to intervene if we see other people In danger, I would steer clear of doing so. why? you don’t know “whose who”, “Circumstances” and you yourself, are not in “Immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm”. Sounds intimidating, but the case of Lynn Schafer back in the day tells us, if someone threatens you such as ” I will kill u tomorrow” and you return tomorrow and your in fear for your life and you happen to kill your attacker, then a court could rule Manslaughter. why? Because you knew ahead of time that you would face “death or grave bodily harm” if u came back and you could have avoided the encounter since u had advanced knowledge of it……Innocent looking situations like what I described have put otherwise well intentioned people behind bars. You never have a duty to kill(unless your LEO then its Necessary force) so getting involved with quarrels that do not involve you is not a smart idea. Unless of course you are in immediate danger of death or grave bodily harm” like a mass shooter incident, but not a quarrel between two people. Even if someone was clearely beating someone up, it could be that one party started it as the initiator and the other party is defending themselves. You don’t have enough information. If you have any doubt, DO NOT INTERVENE. I suggest watching Massad Ayoobs “Judicious Use of Force and cute Lawyer tricks” on YT. And to get two books. Rules of the Road and In the Gravest Extreme. Learn the Statutes, learn the different types of murder charges, learn about INTENT, Disparity of Force, Immediate danger etc….you should become almost like an Attorney yourself. I know I have amassed a lot of knowledge of Law. And so should you

    2. “If you own a firearm that you may depend on for self defense, take a class. Study. Learn. Be informed!”

      Amen and amen!

      I hear way too many gun store commandos spouting off about what they will do if someone comes into their house, or worse, advising newbies on what they can do.

      Get competent training!

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