Is the Montana AG Inducing a District Court Judge to Undo the MSSA’s Landmark Gun Law?

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The Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA), in an official brochure sent out to its members, cites legal scholar David Kopel of the Independence Institute

“Montana has the best gun laws in the US, probably the World, primarily because of the effective pro-gun and pro-hunting political work MSSA has done in Montana.”

This same brochure proceeds to tell the 30-year history of the political and legal successes the MSSA has achieved for its members, hunters, and Montana gun owners.

Citing 2009, the informational brochure reads: 

“MSSA’s landmark HB 228 made many important changes in Montana law about when and how a person may possess or use a firearm for self-defense without fear of prosecution for doing so. This law:

– Declares as policy that self-defense is a natural right and that self-defense by citizens reduces crime

-Declares as policy that the right to bear arms in Montana is a fundamental (important Legal term) and individual right

-Reverses guilty-until-proven-innocent for people defending themselves — previously, defenders had to prove that they were justified in using force

-Declares as a policy that a defender has no duty to summon help or flee before using force to defend in any place the defender has a lawful right to be (recognizing the right to stand your ground)

– Declares that open carry is legal in Montana

-Clarifies that a defender may announce ‘I have a gun,’ with no more fear of prosecution under Montana’s overbroad felony ‘intimidation’ statute

-Clarifies that a person may show an attacker that the defender is armed, and may even draw the gun if the defender genuinely fears attack (without fear of a “brandishing” charge)”

Is the MSSA telling the truth to its members about HB 228? Not according to the office of the Montana Attorney General. In fact, based upon a recent filing by Assistant Attorney General Thorin Geist in the case of the four Christian missionaries from North Carolina (who were attacked on the side of a highway and forced to defend themselves last November in Madison County) it seems an effort is being made to induce 5th District Judge Luke Berger to literally re-define and re-write Montana gun law from the bench. Does Attorney General Knudsen support this? Does he even know about it?

On July 6th of this year, AG Knudsen appeared on an episode of Northwest Liberty News with host James White (Click here to watch and listen)At about the 2-minute mark, he says these words: “I’m a gun guy.  I don’t give lip service to the 2nd Amendment … if it goes bang, I’m into it.” Now if that’s true, Mr. Knudsen, you have some explaining to do.

In a brief filed on August 30th in the missionary case entitled States Notice of Outstanding Issue, Thorin Geist, an unelected bureaucrat working under the authority of Austin Knudsen declares:

“The Defendants interpret ‘drawing or presenting a weapon’ in § 45-3-111(2), MCA, to include the ability to point a firearm at someone if they are threatened with bodily harm. In contrast, the State contends that a person may draw or present a weapon if they are threatened with bodily harm, but that they cannot point a firearm at someone until there exists an ‘imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury’ in accord with § 45-3-102.”

Most revealing, he goes on to state:

“The interpretation of the § 45-3-111(2), MCA, is perhaps the single most important issue in this case.”

45-3-111(2) in the Montana Code Annotated is a direct result of the 2009 passage of HB 228. It reads very clearly and succinctly:

“If a person reasonably believes that the person or another person is threatened with bodily harm, the person may warn or threaten the use of force, including deadly force, against the aggressor, including drawing or presenting a weapon [emphasis added].”

On November 12, 2022, Jesse Boyd of Vale, North Carolina was forced to draw a gun in the face of an unprovoked attack when a Madison County resident, Brad Terrell, pulled up in a truck, and said “Your kind ain’t welcome in Montana,” exited his vehicle, crossed a road, and attempted to attack Mr. Boyd in the presence of his 12-year-old son, 18-year-old daughter, and two missionary partners. This action diffused the initial attack and Mr. Terrell seemed to calm down. Mr. Boyd then mistakenly (i.e. in his own words) put the gun away (re-holstering it, handed it to his ministry partner who then put it away in the team’s vehicle) and tried to reason with the attacker. Brad Terrell then attacked him, tackling him to the ground and repeatedly pummeling him while his head was buried in snow. It was at this point that Mr. Boyd’s daughter and his two ministry partners came to his aid to help him get out from under a giant angry man. After extricating themselves, three other individuals came upon the scene while Terrell boasted, “The cowboys are here. And, I know the sheriff. You are in big fucking trouble.” Jesse Boyd, in his full testimony, while in solitary confinement (Click here to read) describes: 

“It was at this point that two other vehicles approached from inside the fence line on Cameron Road. Carter, Bethany, and Eric positioned themselves between the ranting assailant and me as he went to his truck. I asked Carter to hand me the pistol holstered on his hip (Eric had previously put mine away). He did, and I held it somewhat clandestinely to my body for a few moments, fearing violent reprisal from the others who had arrived on the scene and had exited their vehicles aggressively. When they stopped and approached no closer to any of us, I gave the pistol back to Carter, and he re-holstered it.”

In a 10-minute 911 call placed by Jesse Boyd in November 12, he immediately reported: “We were attacked by some locals and I was forced to PULL A GUN to defend my life and the life of my child.”

So, we have an incident where a Christian father from North Carolina pulled a gun to stop an attempted attack in the presence of two his children, and the Office of the Attorney General of Montana is claiming “The interpretation of the § 45-3-111(2), MCA, is perhaps the single most important issue in this case,” particularly the phrase “drawing or presenting a weapon.” Such a claim in the aforementioned August 30th brief is interesting on a couple of fronts. If 45-3-111(2) is indeed the focal point of this case, then the prosecution is subtly admitting that Brad Terrell was indeed the aggressor. If these missionaries were somehow the aggressors in this matter (as the Madison County Sheriffs Deputies conspired to conclude, thereby arresting four of them and turning the 12-year-old son of Jesse Boyd over to Child Protective Services), then the interpretation of 45-3-111(2) would be a moot point, and certainly not “the single most important issue in this case;” for the protection afforded in this statute is AGAINST THE AGGRESSOR. Notwithstanding, it seems the Office of the Montana Attorney General is pushing forward in this case by playing a game of semantics. Their argument, as stated in the August 30th brief, is that drawing or presenting a weapon, as stated in 45-3-111(2), does not include the ability to point a weapon at someone who poses a threat. And, they are asking 5th District Court Judge Luke Berger to rule that “draw or present” cannot mean “point.”

Consider that in light of the MSSA brochure cited above. According to the Montana Shooting Sports Association, HB 228 which resulted in the wording of MCA 45-3-111(2), “clarifies that a person may show an attacker that the defender is armed, AND MAY EVEN DRAW THE GUN if the defender genuinely fears attack (without fear of a “brandishing” charge).”

Is an unelected bureaucrat in the Office of “I don’t give lip service to the 2nd Amendment” Austin Knudsen attempting to induce a district judge intro re-writing or re-defining Montana gun law by arguing semantics in a ridiculous case against four Christian missionaries? Is Thorin Geist really taking the position that Jesse Boyd was justified in “drawing” a gun but not in “pointing a gun” when faced with an attack in the presence of two of his children? Is he really asking a judge to declare by judicial fiat that “drawing” or “presenting” in MCA 45-3-111(2) CANNOT MEAN pointing a gun in the direction of a threat?

Since when do judges possess the authority to cancel common definitions of English words that go back to before the invention of firearms? Consider the word DRAW, used of a sword long before guns came on the scene. Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary, under “draw,” states “to draw the sword is to wage war.” In other words, it’s understood that when a man draws a sword, he unsheathes it to a position ready to use it. The same would obviously apply to a gun. How can a gun be ready to use if not pointed in he direction of a threat? When it comes to firearms, the 1764 British Manual of Arms describes the final position of PRESENT (a word also used in MCA 45-3-111) to be the same as TAKE AIMThis particular manual was used by the British regiments serving in America and should be considered the principal source for arms and marching maneuvers during the period of the American Revolution. In other words, George Washington would have most clearly understood and instructed the PRESENT command to mean TAKE AIM WITH YOUR RIFLE (i.e. pointing it at your target).

There’s actually an interesting instructional online video entitled “How to Draw a Handgun” (Click here to watch). In it, a retired navy seal and firearms expert says “we’re just going to cover the DRAW right now” (i.e. in this video). You’ll notice by watching that there is no draw without actually pointing the weapon in the direction of the danger. Not, however, according to Assistant AG Thorin Geist.  I wonder how Mr. Geist would demonstrate the drawing or presenting of a handgun in such a way that he doesn’t point it in the direction of approaching danger. Is it even possible to pull a handgun out of a holster without the barrel pointing somewhere? After an entire year, has this semantic game really become the focal point of the missionary case in Madison County?

Here’s a better question.

Is the MSSA aware that, according to the Office of the Montana AG, its official brochure is misleading its members when it claims HB 228 CLARIFIES “that a person may show an attacker that the defender is armed, and may even draw the gun if the defender genuinely fears attack (without fear of a “brandishing” charge).” After all ,the MSSA refers to showing a gun and drawing a gun as two different actions. Thorin Geist, we assume, believes they are the same and that a judge should de-facto declare it, thereby re-writing HB 228.

Interestingly, Mr. Geist’s semantic game in the missionary case completely sidesteps the crux of MCA 45-3-111(2). This statute, the fruit of HB 228 and the hard work of the MSSA, actually centers around the freedom to THREATEN DEADLY FORCE against an aggressor. The statue then lists “drawing” and “presenting” a weapon as examples of THREATENING DEADLY FORCE. If Mr. Geist is going to argue that “pointing” a gun is not protected by 45-3-111(2), he is going to have to argue that pointing a gun is not threatening deadly force but actual deadly force. In essence, that is what he is doing by citing MCA 45-3-102 as defining 45-3-111(2). Unfortunately for him, however, he forgets about MCA 45-3-101. In this foundational statute, deadly force is described as FIRING a gun, not pointing a gun. 

More unfortunate for this unelected bureaucrat is an abundance of case precedent from Michigan to Maine, and even including the US Circuit of Appeals. In a plethora of rulings, involving citizens and police officers, it has been declared that pointing a gun at someone is NOT deadly force. It may be a threat of deadly force, but it is not actual deadly force. Therefore, someone is completely within their rights, according to Montana Law, to point a gun at an aggressor, for Montana law allows one to THREATEN DEADLY FORCE against an aggressor. Interestingly in Jesse Boyd’s home state of North Carolina, pointing a gun at someone when there is no threat is a misdemeanor while firing a gun at someone when there is no threat is a serious felony charge.

Perhaps most interesting for the case at hand, however, is a ruling out of the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals from 2014:

STEIGEL V COLLINS involved a matter of a police officer pointing a gun during a Terry stop. The 3rd Circuit held that this officer was justified in pointing his gun while he “assessed and gained control over the situation.” What’s most interesting in this ruling is that DRAWING a weapon is equated with POINTING a weapon. The terms are used interchangeably. Consider this excerpt from the actual text of the decision. What you will see is DRAWING, POINT, DISPLAY, and DISPLAYING all used to describe the same action:

“Several cases from this and other circuits have used the Graham factors to determine whether an officer’s act of DRAWING his weapon during an encounter with a citizen was justified. These cases divide into two categories: (1) cases where an officer was justified in DISPLAYING his weapon because he reasonably perceived that he was in danger, and (2) cases where the DISPLAY was not warranted because there was no threat to officer safety. Several circuits have held that it is not a constitutional violation for a police officer to POINT a gun at an individual who poses a reasonable threat of danger or violence to police. One example of this situation occurred where an officer was alone with three individuals suspected of criminal activity. Courson v. McMillian, 939 F.2d 1479, 1483– 84, 1496 (11th Cir. 1991). There, because the officer was outnumbered and the individuals were belligerent, the Eleventh Circuit found the officer was justified in DISPLAYING his weapon” [Emphasis added]

The entire decision can be read here: (Click here)

At the end of the day, this is all a ridiculous ploy to railroad innocent Christian missionaries who are the actual VICTIMS in the matter of November 12, 2022. And it boils down to a semantic game? Or, is it something more sinister? Is there an effort being made from inside the office of a pro-2nd Amendment Attorney General, who has been very critical of the liberal Montana judiciary and judicial re-legislation, to induce a judge to literally re-write HB 228 and de-fang it of what the MSSA terms “landmark protections” for Montana gun owners? Where is the MSSA on this matter? It is even aware of what is happening in Madison County?

Call the Montana Attorney General today and let him know that playing semantic games with established Montana gun laws will not be tolerated: 406-444-2023

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