Is Montana the Wild West of Lethal Force?

by lizard

As a newbie gun owner, it’s my responsibility to learn how to safely handle my firearm. It’s also my responsibility to learn about the laws regarding the use of lethal force.

But I’m confused.

Let’s say I’m a young man sitting in my vehicle outside the Fox’s Club. Maybe I’m the kind of sleazy piece of shit who likes to catcall women for fun, so that’s what I do. Let’s further say a young man accompanying the women I’m harassing takes exception to my obnoxious behavior and approaches my vehicle. An altercation ensues, so I shoot the young man with my handgun and he dies. When the police arrive, I cooperate with authorities.

That’s the gist of what allegedly happened earlier this month between two men. Christopher Hymel, the young man who responded to the alleged harassment, is dead. Nearly three weeks after this incident, the shooter has yet to be officially identified. I did see comments online identifying the shooter, but I think those comments have since been taken down. So far, no charges have been filed.

Here is one comment describing how this shooting went down:

From witness accounts, Chris Hymel was defending women in the parking lot who were being bullied and harassed by the shooter while he sat in his truck, when he told the shooter to respect women, the shooter physically and verbally attacked Chris, blows were exchanged for a few seconds while the shooter was in the truck, this was not one sided by any means. Chris then stepped away from shooter’s vehicle, waited for shooter to exit the vehicle, shooter/killer came out of his vehicle, aimed a gun at Chris who had his arms out to his sides, while witnesses begged shooter not to shoot, of course shooter (being the self-centered coward that he is) shot and killed Chris Hymel. This was not self-defense by shooter it was clear cut murder. Witnesses have identified the shooter, who has previous arrests for crimes against a woman. It is also believed that shooter is an athlete and a big game hunter. He was not in fear for his life, he was looking for trouble and he caused the entire situation. Law enforcement needs to do their job no matter who shooter knows or is related to. I am pro-guns all the way, but guns need to be used by mature, sane, responsible people not criminals who harass women and shoot people for fun.

What was shooter doing in the truck sitting alone, with a gun, at strip club at 1:00 a.m. sounds creepy huh???

Who is the shooter? Why have there been no charges brought against this creep who allegedly instigated this confrontation? Can I keep a loaded handgun in my car ready to go if there is trouble? If I get into an altercation, am I allowed to get out of my car and kill the person? What the fuck is going on here?

And how long does it take to interview witness and review any security camera footage that may exist?

I’m confused. Maybe readers can enlighten me in the comment thread.


  1. I’d say MT is rather tame compared with the south side of Chicago.

    Interesting to note however that Yellowstone was the only county to break into the top 30 in % of gun ownership. Chicago (Cook) and Detroit not mentioned.

    Top 30:
    Fairbanks borough, AK – 59.1%
    Tooele County, UT – 59.1%
    Nez Perce County, ID – 59.0%
    Armstrong County, PA – 57.6%
    Rapides Parish, LA – 52.8%
    Teller County, CO – 52.3%
    Darlington County, SC – 52.1%
    Franklin County, VT – 51.7%
    Randolph County, NC – 51.1%
    Canyon County, ID – 50.9%
    Anchorage Municipality, AK – 50.0%
    Laramie County, WY – 49.6%
    Davis County, UT – 48.8%
    Yellowstone County, MT – 48.7%
    Franklin County, PA – 48.5%
    Pennington County, SD – 48.5%
    Terrebonne Parish, LA – 47.9%
    Ouachita Parish, LA – 47.6%
    Florence County, SC – 47.6%
    Orange County, VT – 47.0%
    Calcasieu Parish, LA – 46.4%
    Weber County, UT – 46.3%
    Kanawha County, WV – 45.2%
    Ada County, ID – 45.0%
    Pulaski County, AR – 44.7%
    Minnehaha County, SD – 44.7%
    Westmoreland County, PA – 44.0%
    Pinal County, AZ – 43.6%
    St. Tammany Parish, LA – 42.5%
    Caddo Parish, LA – 42.2%

  2. lizard19

    I know it’s a lot to ask for you to read stuff I post, but based on the account of what allegedly happened, do you think the shooting was justified?

    • Craig Moore

      IN the account it states that blows were exchanged. How did this happen with one party still sitting in his vehicle? Was the person in the vehicle a gumby like Mr. Fantastic and can reach yards away? Did the person outside the vehicle make threatening remarks in response to the disrespectful verbiage coming from the person in the vehicle? Who threw the first blow? Were the blows upon the person in the vehicle all received in the vehicle? Did the person within the vehicle have any visibility marks or injuries from the exchange of blows?

      • JC

        In the grand tradition of the wild west shootout, is he who gets off the first shot justified in the killing of the other?

        What answers to which of the questions you pose, Craig, would justify a shooting death in your mind?

        In case you haven’t noticed, Liz has been beating the drum loudly for a public investigation of the event so people can understand what happened.

        As things are, it seems like a coverup is occurring. And if there is a coverup, who is covering up whom, and why?

        And if there isn’t a coverup, does not the public have the right to know who kills whom with a gun? Or is a “justified” killing reason enough to withhold the killer’s name?

        Enquiring minds and all…

        • Craig Moore

          Lizard wrote, “…but based on the account of what allegedly happened, do you think the shooting was justified?”

          What I attempted to communicate was that the “account” has tooooo many information holes to provide a substantive answer. Mere speculation based upon the account is silly.

          • JC

            I think that with all of the shootings around Missoula lately, and with the upcoming Castle Doctrine trial of Marcus Kaarma, that having a community discussion about “justifiable” shootings is timely.

            You asked the questions and I merely said, based on your questions and the range of responses to them, where would you come down on justifiable shooting in the parking lot of a strip club?

            The bigger question here, though may be the public’s right to know what exactly went on, and why prosecutors and the media are doing what they are doing, which is to prevent the public from knowing the details.

            Or do we have to wait until somehow, someday, maybe the powers-that-be will release enough information for us to have an informed debate — and gasp, maybe even charges and a trial.

            And in the absence of that information, and the whole thing gets swept under the rug, what do we do then? Go shopping? Get drunk? Buy more guns so that everybody has one, and we can descend into that anachronistic gun fighting of the old west?

            • Craig Moore

              As I understand it the investigation is ongoing and the shooter has been cooperating. Let’s give the process some time before passing judgement and making wildly speculative claims of sweeping the matter under the rug.

              • lizard19

                Craig, the first glaring inconsistency between what was reported and what eye witnesses have described is whether or not the shooter fired his gun while inside the truck, or if he got out of his truck and then fired. the initial report was that the shooter fired from inside the truck. I know someone who actually knew the victim and the friends he was with, and there are at least 4 people she talked to, who were there, and who she trusts, that said the shooter got out of the truck. if the claim is self defense, then whether he was in the truck or outside the truck is a critical distinction that needs to be clarified.

                I can’t imagine that it would be difficult for investigators to determine whether or not the shooter was in the truck or outside the truck when the shooting happened. It’s been nearly three weeks now. that’s three weeks of allowing some trigger happy asshole who thinks it’s a good idea to bring a loaded gun to a strip club to keep living his life after he took the life of another person.

    • Eric

      I’ve been to classes on Lethal Force. Yes, you can have a loaded weapon in your car, as long as it’s not in a prohibited area, such as in a school, or university parking lot.

      No, it is not the Wild Wild West, and you cannot shoot obnoxious people on sight.

      You say that the dead man assaulted the shooter. If he had been continuing the assault, or the shooter thought he or someone else was in imminent danger, he has no responsibility to retreat, and would have been justified protecting himself or others.

      If the altercation was over, and it can be proven nobody was in danger, the shooter has a lot of problems right now, like being charged with 2nd degree murder.

      The decision to go armed isn’t one to be taken lightly.

      I would think that if there’s any doubts, that it would be put before a Grand Jury, and they would decide if the shooter should be charged.

      So lets change the scenario a little – you whistle at his girlfriend, he comes over and gives you the one-two on the face, and challenges you to get out of the car and finish it. You’re pissed, pull out a weapon, get out and shoot him. That’s not self defense, because when he backed away, you probably were not in imminent danger anymore.

      Lets say though that the dead guy opened your door, pulled you out and was going to pound on you some more, you would be acting in self-defense.

      I’m going to have to keep an eye out for news on this one.

  3. Let’s not forget the most glaring inconsistency, Lizard. If one is sitting in their vehicle and some other is yelling ‘Come At Me, Bro’, the best defense is to turn the key and drive the fuck away.

    No. This is simply another case where Craig is weakly attempting to sow doubt where there logically can’t be any. If you are in a 3 to 4 ton truck, and ‘afeared fer yer life’ drive.the fuck.away. All ‘allegations’ and unrealized court testimony to the side, there is no way this was not deliberate manslaughter at the very least.

    • Well I’m glad Judge Kailey has ruled. Saves the expense of a long and drawn out trial.

      The only “inconsistency” I see is exactly what happened with
      Trayvon Martin, Diren Debe, and Michael Brown.

      People “knee jerking” to “off with his head”.

      • lizard19

        how about I call your wife a cunt and you defend her honor by teaching me a lesson with your fists, then I shoot and kill you. that is basically what happened. how knee jerk do you think your friends and family would be if three weeks later I had yet to be charged with a crime?

        • How can a little boy taking a short cut home with his bag of skittles be shot dead? How can a German exchange student wander into a garage innocently and be gunned down? How can a gentle giant with his hands raised in the air in a surrendering motion suffer fatal rounds?

          • Dead men tell no tales.

        • James Maxie

          You cannot legally punch someone for making derogatory comments toward your wife.

          • Fine. Charge the corpse with assault, and let that be a mitigating factor at the shooter’s murder trial. But for pity’s sake, and the sake of upholding the law, at least charge the shooter with *something*.

  4. Eric

    ” If one is sitting in their vehicle and some other is yelling ‘Come At Me, Bro’, the best defense is to turn the key and drive the fuck away.”

    That’s the smart move, even if you have no legal responsibility to retreat. From that I read online, the shooter didn’t get out of his truck, and I would not like to be in his shoes right now.

  5. Pogo Possum

    Lizard. I heard a similar version of what you reported with minor variations. The person I heard from was standing close to Hymel when he was shot. Hymel was in Missoula for a wedding and he and the group of people congregated in the parking lot of the Fox Club were part of the wedding celebration. The version I heard was they were standing in the parking lot talking when the person who fired the shot drove up behind them and started honking his horn and yelling obscenities at them. A number of people in the group said they knew the person in the vehicle and commented he had a reputation for confrontational and bizarre behavior in the past. Hymel reportedly walked over to the driver’s side of the car to talk to the driver. After a brief exchange of words, the observer said, punches started to fly.

    According to the person I heard from, it was unclear who threw the first punch but the person said both were punching each other. Hymel then reportedly stepped back from the vehicle a ways, held out his arms and challenged the driver to fight him. The driver reportedly opened his door, stepped out of the vehicle holding a gun, pointed it at Hymel and shot him in the chest. One person said she was so close to Hymel when he was shot that she felt she could have been hit if the shooter’s aim was off by even a degree.

    Not surprisingly, the Missoulian story (implying Hymel was shot while leaning through the window of the car) does not appear to match up with what several witnesses report. Unfortunately, news stories reported immediately after tragedies occur are often highly inaccurate and misleading and those inaccurate “facts” tend to be repeated without correction by media sources in the following days, weeks and months. The Travon Martin case Swede mentions is just one good example. There were substantial inaccuracies in the initial news reports that dramatically shaped public opinion about the case long before the true facts were established.

    I know you don’t like Craig’s comments, but he does make a good point. You need to give this some more time for the investigation to conclude, which can take much longer than people expect. There are, medical and ballistic reports to be submitted and reviewed, a lot of witnesses to interview and an equal number of different versions of events to sort through. Weeks or months are not an unusual amount of time for prosecutors to file charges if they decide to proceed with a case against the shooter.

    • lizard19

      and what responsibility does the Missoulian have? their reporters seem almost pathologically incapable of effective reporting. the eye-witness accounts we have both heard place the shooter outside the truck when the shot was fired, and yet the Missoulian reports otherwise. and then there’s the picture they chose to print of the victim posing shirtless with his pitbull.

      I don’t have a good sense of how long something like this generally would take to investigate, but I can’t imagine after 3 weeks witnesses haven’t been interviewed. if those witnesses are all saying the shooter got out of the truck, then fired, then the county attorney’s office has an obligation to charge the shooter. failing to do so reinforces the suspicion that the shooter is somehow getting special treatment because of who he is.

  6. JC

    Investigators just handed over the case to Van Valkenburg’s office. Somehow, this doesn’t make me feel any better about the killing.

    Deputy County Attorney Jason Marks, who is handling the case, said his office received the report on Tuesday and has begun its initial review. The report includes interviews, evidence and other findings made over MPD’s three-week investigation.

    Marks couldn’t offer any timeline for making a determination, nor could he release the name of the shooter.

    “We’ll evaluate if we have the evidence to support filing a criminal charge,” Marks said. “We’re working to get through all the reports, evidence and interviews in this case and make a determination as soon as possible.”

    • Then please make noise. Van Valkenburg seems to respond to that. You know how to whistle, don’t you?




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