A Man's Wal-Mart Is His Castle?

The most widely-reported version of events is that Lira, 32, who weighs in excess of 260 pounds, got into an argument over the length of a work break with Wal-Mart co-worker Craig Schmidt, 49, who weighs 100 pounds less. The argument escalated, and Lira punched Schmidt in the face at least once. Schmidt was knocked to the ground. While down, Schmidt drew a .25-caliber Beretta and fired one shot at Lira from a range of 10-15 feet, striking him in the head and ending the fight.

Lira's version of events is a bit different. Lira maintains that he was trying to defend himself from Schmidt. Lira claims that Schmidt started the altercation by slamming his shoulder into him, at which point he then punched Schmidt. Lira then claims he heard a clicking noise. He thought that Schimdt was trying to pull a knife on him and so he tried to restrain him. Lira then says Schmidt spun out of his grasp and shot him at contact range -- less than one foot.

Before HB0228 became law, County Attorney Dennis Paxinos would have had probable cause to arrest Schmidt for assault with a weapon. Schmidt would have remained in custody while the authorities investigated whether or not he was acting in self-defense. But Paxinos says that because of the new law, he had to release Schmidt while authorities conduct their investigation. The obvious implication is that shooters in similar cases must be set free and put back on the street until the authorities collect enough evidence to prove that the shooting wasn't self-defense.

If you read this and get the feeling that this literally leads to a dangerous "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality in Montana, then you might be getting the exact impression that prosecutor Paxinos intends.

Paxinos was one of several county attorneys who were strongly opposed to HB0228 while the law was debated in the legislature. This case carries with it political elements that go beyond the merits of this shooting to the merits of the law itself. SB0228 was written by state legislators to protect the rights of citizens to defend themselves using deadly force if necessary, but fears are that it may have gone too far.

Craig Schmidt walks the streets of Billings a free man -- at least for now -- after shooting a man in the face over a work-related argument that escalated to gunplay. Somehow, I don't think that is the kind of outcome that the Montana legislature had in mind.