[Cross-posted at Orcinus.]
Even in a state like Montana, where guns have long been woven into the culture, even in this paranoiac-gun-crazy age, there are still some lines that no one can or should cross. One of them is old-fashioned premeditated murder.
We all saw this "stand your ground" mentality in play with the Trayvon Martin case. And in the recent murder conviction of the Minneapolis man who lay in wait in his home so he could gun down the two teenagers who came to burglarize his place in cold blood.
Now there's a case in Missoula, Montana, a state where guns have been part of the culture since the days of the Old West, and have never ceased being so. But everyone knows when someone is hiding behind a law to commit cold-blooded murder, as happened again in a case like the Minnesota one, involving a homeowner angry at being burglarized.
Around midnight on April 27, a 17-year-old exchange student from Germany named Diren Dede left the host home where he played Xbox and drained cans of Sprite to set off with a friend through his dark hillside neighborhood. They passed a home whose garage door hung partially open. Using a cellphone for light, Mr. Dede headed in.
Inside the house, motion sensors alerted Markus Kaarma, 29, to an intruder’s presence. Two recent burglaries had put Mr. Kaarma and his young family on edge, his lawyer said, and he grabbed a shotgun from the dining room and rushed outside. He aimed into the garage and, according to court documents, fired four blasts into the dark. Mr. Dede’s body crumpled to the floor.
While Mr. Kaarma has been charged with deliberate homicide, Mr. Dede’s death has set off an outcry an ocean away in Germany, exposing the cultural gulf between a European nation that tightly restricts firearms and a gun-loving Western state. In his defense, Mr. Kaarma is expected to turn to laws enacted in Montana five years ago that allow residents more legal protections in using lethal force to defend their homes.
This isn't the first time the "Castle doctrine" has been used as a pretext for cold-blooded murder in western Montana. Last year, a man in Kalispell gunned down the husband of the woman he had been sleeping with when the man came to his home, and he too claimed self-defense under the Montana law.
But this case presented clear evidence that the perpetrator set out to kill someone:
A hairstylist named Felene Sherbondy told the police that Mr. Kaarma had come into the Great Clips salon three days before the shooting and talked about how he had been waiting up with his shotgun for three nights “to shoot some kid.” Ms. Sherbondy told the police that Mr. Kaarma was being “extremely vulgar and belligerent,” according to court documents.
Al Sharpton's PoliticsNation show tackled the case earlier this week. And Sharpton got right to the point, exploring the reality that this "stand your ground" mentality was creating a culture that encourages people to commit cold-blooded murder.
He invited Montana legislator Rep. Ellie Boldman Hill of Missoula -- a standout progressive in a state where that is a rarity -- on to discuss her efforts to overturn Montana's "Castle doctrine" laws, or at least reform them.
And Hill left little doubt where all this originates:
HILL: That’s my contention, Reverend. These types of laws have created a culture in our country of vigilante justice that has expanded too far. I believe that this individual is using the “castle doctrine” although it’s premeditated murder – just like we’ve seen in Florida, with Trayvon Martin, and now we’re seeing out here in the West with Montana. This isn’t a rural or urban issue, this isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. This is an issue of the NRA taking our gun laws, taking our self-defense laws, and running amok in a dangerous way that has made our communities less safe, and has now resulted in a culture of violence where people are being murdered in the name of their “castle”.
Hill deserves kudos for her bravery and her thoughtfulness. Now if only her fellow Democrats would act like the common-sense Western Democrats of old and rally behind her effort.