Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fear, suspicion, guns, hoodies and the death of Trayvon Martin

Again, I am overwhelmed by the coverage of the Trayvon Martin case. The world is watching as the U.S. goes through this painful but inevitable conversation about what our ridiculous gun laws have wrought. And now, finally, we are having a national discussion that we should have had long ago. Everyone in the gun violence prevention movement understands the frustration of trying to break through to the mainstream media and the general public about the dangerous laws that the NRA and organizations like ALEC have been pushing for years. There is an agenda. It is steeped in ramped up fears and ramped up suspicion of those who look different- those who are the "other". It is an unreasonable fear of "scary" people lurking around every corner. It has been a part of the under current of the insidious Republican attacks on the legitimacy of our first Black President who is actually half white. It is behind the ramping up of the NRA's efforts to make sure gun sales stay up and more people buy them. 
"There’s a reason: Because they’re selling. They aren’t just sitting on the shelf if they’re being manufactured," Colbrun said.
Relaxed gun laws are likely a factor behind the boom in sales, although not the only reason and perhaps not the primary one, industry experts say.
Many point to fears stoked by gun-rights advocates that President Barack Obama, if elected to a second term, will push legislation to rein in gun ownership. 
Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the powerful National Rifle Association, told a meeting of conservatives last month that the president’s gun strategy is “crystal clear,” saying that Obama wants to “get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms’ freedom, erase the Second Amendment.”
Jim Barrett, an analyst at CL King & Associates, an independent investment research firm who tracks the gun industry, said both the Obama factor and gun laws are at play. 
“You have conceal-carry laws being enacted by more and more states. That tends to spark an immediate jump in gun ownership in those states,” he said. 
“And the fact that Obama may get re-elected makes gun owners nervous,” Barrett added. 
President Obama will surely take away your guns and your rights! Such nonsense should not be believed or accepted in our common discourse. And the NRA has been involved in ridiculous attacks against any reasonable attempt to shore up our loose gun laws by saying they will lead to the "slippery slope" of eroding gun rights. All of this while cynically participating in their very own slippery slope of getting more laws passed in more states to allow more people who shouldn't have guns to carry them in more places.

What are the people who push these laws actually afraid of? I like the way this Washington Post piece by Alexandra Petri puts those fears into words.
Fortunately for the fearful, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has their interests at heart. To get away with murder, you need not prove that anyone intended you harm before you shot him. All you need prove is that you were very, very afraid. You need a real and reasonable fear that your life is in danger.
But so few fears are. We’re more frightened of public speaking than drowning, of spiders than driving. What the law says is that force is justified if someone “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” In a word — fear. If my fear is big enough, it can outweigh your life.
This law terrifies me. I don’t suppose I can shoot it?
To Zimmerman, the figure in the hoodie was a nameless, faceless menace. But he wasn’t. His name was Trayvon Martin, “Slimm” or “Tray” to his friends.
Petri goes on:
We live in a terrified age. You can’t ride a bicycle without a helmet. You can’t knock on your neighbor’s door. You can’t go on the Internet and talk to strangers because the People You Don’t Know are Bad and Dangerous.
Not as dangerous as you are. You stab and stab at the shadowy Beast and discover it is nothing but a scared boy running along the beach.
Nice people don’t have racism, these days. What they have is something else. Localized fear. Fear of the life outside the gates. You go here. We’ll go here. This is your street. This is my street. This is my school. This is your school. Stay where you don’t look Out Of Place to George Zimmerman, and you’ll be safe.
Maybe the world is worse than it used to be. Certainly the nameless, faceless menace of the Rapist, the Home Invader, the Terrorist, the Child Molester is more terrible and present than it ever was. But even in the first of these categories, the statistics belie the image. Most people know their attackers. But the Faceless Menace is easier to fear. The Unknown is so much more frightening.
“I was afraid of him,” you say. “I was entitled to shoot. You never know what might have happened if I hadn’t.”
If George Zimmerman hadn’t, there would be one more face in the hallways at Dr. Michael Krop High School. And after that, who knows. 
What are your fears? Do you need a gun to protect yourself from those fears? Will a gun make you more or less fearful? That is an important question and has been brought to light by the Trayvon Martin shooting. That light is now being shed by the media and the public who are finally paying attention. Now the media has begun to look at the laws, passed now in 24 states that are similar or even the same as the Florida Stand Your Ground law that led to the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Now finally the media is looking at who has pushed the laws and who has supported them and signed them into law. The connections are being made to the NRA and to ALEC sponsored legislation that pushes laws with wording almost exact to that of the Florida law.
As Mother Jones has reported before, the American Legislative Exchange Council often writes conservative legislation that finds its way onto the lawbooks—it's shaped energy laws, as well as labor fights in Wisconsin and Michigan. (It's also recently been caught red-handed passing its legislation onto lawmakers in Florida.) But Media Matters says ALEC has also teamed up with the National Rifle Association to pass "stand your ground" legislation to protect shooters:
Florida's statute on the use of force in self-defense is virtually identical to Section 1 of ALEC's Castle Doctrine Act model legislation as posted on the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). According to CMD, the model bill was adopted by ALEC's Civil Justice Task in August 2005—just a few short months after it passed the Florida legislature—and approved by its board of directors the following month.
Since the 2005 passage of Florida's law, similar statutes have been passed in 16 other states. This was no accident. In a 2008 interview with NRA News, ALEC resident fellow Michael Hough explained how his organization works with the NRA to push similar legislation through its network of conservative state legislators:
HOUGH: We are a very pro-Second Amendment organization. In fact, last session, I'll get off-topic here real quick, but some of the things that we were pushing in states was the Castle Doctrine. We worked with the NRA on that, that's one of our model bills that we have states introduce.
Media Matters notes that the NRA, along with the Koch Brothers, has been a primary funder of ALEC, adding, "NRA got what it paid for."
This article from Media Matters displays for all to see, how the wording coming from ALEC is almost identical to the wording of the Florida law.
The language in Florida law which may protect Martin's killer from prosecution states:
(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
The language is identical to ALEC's Castle Doctrine Act model legislation, which they have been working hand in hand with the NRA to pass across the country:
3. A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place [other than their dwelling, residence, or vehicle] where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
I have written about the connection to ALEC before. Corporate America in the name of WalMart, Koch Brothers and others seem to want to shape American law and American culture to their own advantage. What is their agenda anyway? I don't know but as more people take a look at their agenda more questions are being asked. Is this about wanting to control and disenfranchise people who are not like them? Do they want to weaken minorities, gays and lesbians, people in poverty, even the middle class?  Do they want to interfere with voter's rights to keep certain people from voting who might not vote in their own interests? I'm just asking and I don't think the answers will be to the liking of the American public at large.

President Obama has finally weighed in on the Trayvon Martin case expressing the sentiments of most of the American public and parents all over the country. He said it well in his statement today. From this article:
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said from the Rose Garden, referring to 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a neighborhood watch guard last month. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.” 
(...) Obama spoke directly to the parents of the teenager, who was walking back from a convenience store carrying candy and a soft drink when he was killed. The parents, Obama said, “are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to treat this with the seriousness it deserves."
Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign, also said it well in his blog yesterday, titled "Meet George Zimmerman: He is the NRA":
The gun lobby has made it clear that they consider Florida one of their great success stories since the introduction of that campaign -- the realization of their vision of just about anyone being able to get a gun and carry it just about anywhere, emboldened by a "shoot first, ask questions later mentality."
The shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is a heartbreaking tragedy. But make no mistake, it is not a surprise that it happened in Florida, the NRA's closest thing to an armed utopia. In fact, much more so than any of the shills they had promoting their agenda in their big budget propaganda campaign, George Zimmerman is the embodiment of the gun lobby and its vision for America.
George Zimmerman is the NRA.
For the NRA and its' minions though, they can't seem to resist saying stupid and incendiary things about this incident. I reference a comment made on Fox News by Geraldo Rivera just a while ago blaming the 'hoodie" that Trayvon Martin was wearing. This amazing statement came from a national television pundit:
"RIVERA: It's those crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-11, the kid is wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it's a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta, you're gonna be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace. That's what happens. It is an instant reflexive action. Remember Juan Williams, our colleague? Our brilliant colleague? He got in trouble with NPR because he said Muslims in formal garb at the airport conjure a certain reaction in him or response in him? That's an automatic reflex. Juan wasn't defending it. He was explaining that that's what happens when he sees these particular people in that particular place.
When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation. Trayvon Martin's you know, god bless him, he's an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hand. He didn't deserve to die. But I'll bet you money, if he didn't have that hoodie on, that -- that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn't have responded in that violent and aggressive way."
Really? I can hardly read this statement. It is so provocative it takes one's breath away. What was Rivera thinking? Can you just say anything? And then he goes on, digging in deeper and deeper to a point of almost no return:
RIVERA: Stop wearing it! Don't let your kid -- you know the old Johnny Cash song, don't take your gun to town, son. Leave your gun at home. There is some things that are almost inevitable. I'm not suggesting that Trayvon Martin had any kind of weapon or anything, but he wore an outfit that allowed someone to respond in this irrational, overzealous way and if he had been dressed more appropriately, I think unless it's raining out, or you're at a track meet, leave the hoodie home. Don't let your children go out there.
If Zimmerman had not taken his own gun to town, Trayvon Martin would be alive today. Who told George Zimmerman not to take his gun to town? Oh, er, that's right- he's not a black teen-ager. It's O.K. for him to take his gun to town. He's a man of mixed race who has permit to carry and a bad and dangerous Stand Your Ground law that he has now used as his claim to "self defense". I guess there's a difference between a boy who wears a hoodie walking black in a place where he had a right to be and a man with a bent for vigilantism and a loaded gun in a place where he should have retreated and not reacted boldly when confronted by a black teen-ager wearing a hoodie. Would a teen-aged boy walking white and wearing a hoodie in the same place just have walked right on by George Zimmerman without attracting his attention? Where is common sense?

Who knows what will set someone with a gun permit off and end with a claim of self defense? One Florida "self defense" case left a man with gunshot injuries and a life of memories of being shot by a former law enforcement officer. In this article, he tells his story:
On June 5, 2006, not long after Florida enacted the first "Stand Your Ground" law in the United States, unarmed Jason Rosenbloom was shot in the stomach and chest by his next-door neighbor after a shouting match over trash.
Exactly what happened that day in Clearwater, Florida, is still open to dispute. Kenneth Allen, a retired police officer, said he shot Rosenbloom because he was trying to storm into his house. 
Rosenbloom told Reuters in a telephone interview this week he never tried to enter the house and was in Allen's yard, about 10 feet from his front door, when he was shot moments after he put his hands up. 
(...) Allen was not arrested in the shooting of Rosenbloom. Sergeant Tom Nestor of the Pinella's County Sheriff's Office said Allen was found to have acted in self-defense when he pumped two rounds into Rosenbloom with his 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
"He meant for me to be dead and he never called 911," said Rosenbloom, 36, adding that Allen, now 65, bent over him and using an expletive, warned him not to tangle "with an ex-cop" as he lay bleeding on the ground.
"The police closed it on his words alone," said Rosenbloom, explaining how the case that began with a complaint about him leaving eight trash bags on the curb instead of the regulation six, was closed after what he described as only a summary investigation.
"They made me the bad guy," he added.
'Little punk'
Allen, contacted by phone in rural Georgia, said on Thursday he had "no regrets" about shooting Rosenbloom, describing him as a "little punk" who was "lucky to be alive."
He denied using profanity after shooting his neighbor, who he claimed had forced his way into the house and threatened to "beat my ass."
All over some garbage bags. All over skittles and a hoodie. It's one man's word against another. From Rosenbloom:
"A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity ... has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony," the law says.
"I think it's a very foolish law meant to turn a blind eye," Rosenbloom said, referring to how Stand Your Ground has been criticized in the past for protecting people who might formerly have been prosecuted for assault or murder.
Too many questions. The wording is vague. What is a forcible felony? Can a shooter decide that before he/she decides to pull the trigger? Was Trayvon Martin committing a forcible felony? Was Rosenbloom? How would we know if there is not an arrest and an investigation or a trial? We should be asking, as does this open letter from another blogger over at Penigma for repeal of the NRA sponsored Stand Your Ground laws:
Man up, admit the failure, and fix the mistake; get rid of your Stand Your Ground Shoot First Make My Day law.  Your gun nuts aren't as safe as they told you they were going to be.  While you're revisiting the Shoot First debacle, your gun carry permit laws could use some work as well.  If you're not sure, take a look at the number of people who get shot in your state.  If you don't look, I can promise you people will be pointing it out to you for the foreseeable future and beyond.
It's finally time- it's well past time-to hold our elected leaders accountable for what they have done and said and also what they have not done or said. 79 members of the Minnesota House of Representaives voted in favor of the Minnesota Shoot First bill in 2011 with a few changes moving to the yes column in the re-vote in 2012. 40 members of the Minnesota Senate voted in favor of the Minnesota Shoot First bill. Who are they? It's time to call out our leaders when they do something that just doesn't pass the smell test. For example, why did Presidential candidate Rick Santorum choose to speak and actually shoot a gun off at a shooting range for a campaign event today in the midst of the uproar over the Martin shooting?
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It prompted a woman in the crowd to yell out that he should pretend the target is President Obama. Was she serious? What is going on? This is what I'm talking about. This is inexcusable. The idea that President Obama deserves to be shot because he is the "other" or is the "enemy" is reprehensible and should be called out as such. It is not funny but people laughed. This is coming directly from the gun rights extremisits who think anything goes. The focus should be and will be on them. The focus should be and will be on our elected leaders. The onus is on them to do the right thing. The onus is on them to stop pandering to the extremism of the NRA and ALEC. Their integrity is at stake. Lives are at stake.


  1. "And the NRA has been involved in ridiculous attacks against any reasonable attempt to shore up our loose gun laws by saying they will lead to the "slippery slope" of eroding gun rights"

    I have yet to see the VPC, BC, or CSGV find any gun law on the books they found "too restrictive".

  2. You asked "What is a forcible felony? Can a shooter decide that before he/she decides to pull the trigger? Was Trayvon Martin committing a forcible felony?"

    "A forcible felony generally includes the more serious crimes (burglary, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, sexual attacks, robbery, murder, homicide, etc.), or an attempt to commit them. The defenses are mostly contained in Florida Statutes 776.012; 776.013; and 776.032.

    1. So Trayvon Martin was not committing a forcible felony. Nor apparently was Rosenbloom. But self defense was used anyway. Hmmm.

    2. Well since Zimmerman's clothes indicated that he had been on his back on the ground, since he had cuts and bruises on the front and back of his head, and since he said that he was calling out for help and no one came perhaps he was the victim of assault and or battery by Trayvon. There I think is where the claim of self defense comes from. Be interesting if they found his blood on Trayvon or Trayvon's drink can, wouldn't it?

      And no, I am not defending Zimmerman. He may have sincerely believed he was in danger of imminent unlawful force leading to death or injury but if there is a finding that he provoked the incident he cannot claim self defense.

      However, I am sitting hundreds of miles closer than you are but still hundreds of miles away from whatever happened. Perhaps we should wait for the police and or the local prosecutors to decide what they are going to do before we announce to the world what happened. Otherwise we may end up looking foolish. Besides, if you can't trust the police to do their jobs properly, then you are going to have to come over to our side of the fence aren't you?

    3. The story about the bloody nose and the clothing has come under question. Also, there is no way to know anything since the law makes it almost impossible to even gather evidence. Most of it is now gone. No gun- Zimmerman has it- no ballistics testing- no drug and alcohol testing on Zimmerman- no photos of the crime scene- no clothing seized. That is what the Stand Your Ground is meant for. Self defense- no questions asked and the shooter walks free. No arrest, no investigation. No nothing except a dead teen-ager.

    4. The story about the bloody nose and the clothing has come under question.

      Odd it was in the police report. Found here. He was even treated at the scene

    5. http://jeffwinbush.com/" Initial police reports never mentioned that Zimmerman had a bloody nose or a wet shirt that showed evidence of a struggle. Attorneys for the dead teen’s family believe the information was added in a second report to justify the lack of an arrest."

  3. This states the firearm was taken for testing. No mention of returning it or not though. I saw another one about his clothes being taken but I am tired of filtering though news reports. I really wish they would just release all the reports and witness statements. It sure would clear up a bunch of the guessing both sides are doing.

    Lee said that afterward police took Zimmerman into investigative detention and took his gun, which is being tested.


  4. The police report clearly states that Zimmerman's pistol and holster were removed from him by Officer Timothy Smith who entered the pistol into evidence as TS-1. I seriously doubt he got it back and would need documentation on that.

    You state that it is almost impossible to gather evidence in a stand your ground case. I would like to see where in the law you found that because I simply don't see it. I did see "2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures
    for investigating the use of force as described in subsection

    I find it shameful that you would link to a site with a title "No Rest Until Arrest." Not "No Rest Until the Truth." Why not just say "I hate people who carry a gun in public and I hate castle doctrine so lets lynch him" or "Investigation? We don need no stinking investigation!"

    You state that the police took no photos but the police report says the scene was turned over to the Major Crimes Unit. What did they do? Please link to the no photos source please.

    Zimmerman was taken into custody and questioned. He was released because no policeman was willing to swear that he had probable cause to arrest him. "Probable cause is a level of reasonable belief, based on facts that can be articulated, that is required to sue a person in civil court or to arrest and prosecute a person in criminal court. Before a person can be sued or arrested and prosecuted, the civil plaintiff or police and prosecutor must possess enough facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the claim or charge is true."

    Simply saying "I don't like people who carry guns and I don't like castle doctrine so let's throw his butt in jail" does not constitute probable cause. Neither does the "victim was a black kid with skittles and the shooter was a hispanic who thought the black kid looked suspicious so he must be a racist". Putting someone in jail without real probable cause can cause a police officer to lose his qualified immunity and face criminal and civil charges for false imprisonment.

    While the Florida Castle Doctrine law has the following radical clause ..."2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures
    for investigating the use of force as described in subsection
    (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using
    force unless it determines that there is probable cause that
    the force that was used was unlawful."

    There is another document that states the following ..."The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    1. You have provided the operative clause- " While the Florida Castle Doctrine law has the following radical clause ..."2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures
      for investigating the use of force as described in subsection
      (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using
      force unless it determines that there is probable cause that
      the force that was used was unlawful.""
      Your assertions about not liking guns is just that- an assertion. That is not the issue at all here. We don't like people killing someone with a gun without a good reason.

  5. Rivera's comments were racist, whether he thinks so or not. The clothes are a stand-in for the color of the kids' skin, and only exposes his stereotyping.

    One thing that the Trayvon Martin case highlights is the dangers of vigilante thinking. Too many conceal carry advocates justify the carrying of hidden, loaded weapons by saying that they will be able to use their guns to play "Wyatt Earp" and kill a would-be thief/rapist/shooter. But there's a reason why society condemns vigilatism and has police forces instead: the average gun owner doesn't have sufficient training in the law, critical thinking in a crisis situation, or negotiation skills, and they are shaded by their own biases in thinking, such as racist thinking, irrational fears, or their own emotional instability. Tragedy too often follows.

    1. My blog post on this last thought: http://newtrajectory.blogspot.com/2012/03/dangers-of-vigilante-justice.html

    2. This is an excellent post. I have always wondered whether folks like those in Dorena, vote agains the levies to maintain or increase services for law enforcement not only because of the money but because they can then claim that law enforcement can't protect them so they need those guns to protect themselves. I'm just wondering.

  6. I wonder if he will make it to trial.



    1. Anthony- as I have said before, I don't support anything like this.

    2. I never said you did. In fact at least one time you condemned placing him under citizens arrest IIRC. It seems as if there are a few people looking to do ham to this man before he has a trial. As far as I can tell you are not for that at all.