As we continue our national discussion about what just happened in the Trayvon Martin murder case, some of the articles written and commentary given point to a troubling trend in the American gun culture. To start, I purchased this wonderful Daryl Cagle cartoon that pretty much sums up the current American gun culture. The cartoon depicts the lunacy and hypocrisy of Stand Your Ground laws. On that topic, there is a troubling increase in cases of shootings in claimed "self defense" in Florida, in particular. I pointed this out in the linked post. There is a troubling increase in the number of gun permit holders all over the country. There is a troubling increase in these permit holders killing someone while holding a legal permit.There is a troubling increase in the number of guns sold since President Obama took office. There is a troubling increase in the number of mass shootings in America. There is a troubling increase in the number of assault weapons owned by individuals in our country in general and also since the Assault Weapons Ban was allowed to lapse in 2004. There is a troubling trend towards dangerous rhetoric about insurrection. There is a troubling co-opting of the language used by the gun rights movement- freedom- tyranny- fear- paranoia. There seems to be a troubling trend towards more children shooting each other or themselves with guns found easily accessible in homes. There is a troubling situation with gun incidents in and around Walmart stores. There is a troubling number of law abiding gun owners accidentally firing their guns and in some cases, shooting another innocent person.
How did we get here? How did America get to a place where some people think it's OK to shoot young Black men because they seem suspicious? How did we get to a place where young mentally ill men get their hands on guns and ammunition they shouldn't have and shoot up little kids in an elementary school or movie goers or colleagues? It's worth examining the American gun culture which has created many of the problems we now face. It's worth examining how this gun culture turned into an organized effort to keep common sense gun laws from being passed. It's worth examining how this gun culture made it possible for armed citizens to roam our streets with guns, sometimes openly holstered. It's worth examining how our elected leaders got deceived into passing laws that make us less safe rather than more safe.
The public and the main stream media have a seemingly short attention span and people feel helpless to do anything about the daily shootings and carnage from guns. But I sense something is changing. I sense that when Republican Senator John McCain thinks Stand Your Ground laws ought to be looked at again, something is changing. I sense that when the gun rights folks and far right extremists scream about President Obama addressing the very real problem of race and loose gun laws in America, they are afraid that things will change. Let's look at some new commentary:
You just can't make this stuff up. Is rational conversation possible? Even conservative Joe Scarborough is disgusted and thought the President's remarks were "badly needed."
Bill Moyers offered this video essay about America "living under the gun"after the Aurora shooting last summer.
Mass shootings and high profile shootings have a way of causing national conversations about gun rights and guns safety. Why wouldn't they? In most countries, they have a way of causing changes to laws so they don't happen again. But in America, they are considered to be a way of life and part of our culture. When that culture shrugs at the carnage and thinks of shooting victims as collateral damage, it reveals something about us. The confluence of the passage of looser Stand Your Ground laws and too many mass shootings should bring us to a new place in the conversation.
Bill Moyers says, from the video above, that: "Violence is our alter ego." If that is true, what will we do about it? Why do we put up with the continual shootings? Why do we let our legislators pass laws that make it more possible to shoot someone first and ask questions later? Moyers is right. It is a "great fraud." Why is America paralyzed when it comes to common sense gun laws? Because, as Moyers says, "the National Rifle Association has turned the second amendment of the constitution into a cruel hoax, a cruel and deadly hoax." And a part of that hoax is the passage of liberalized conceal/carry laws and Stand Your Ground laws. Part of that hoax is letting the Assault Weapons Ban lapse. Part of that hoax is getting immunity from lawsuits for the gun industry. The promotion of carrying loaded guns in public for self protection is a hoax. It has created a small group of armed citizens who represent the gun culture gone wrong. Remember- it is a small group but they have managed to harness the fear and paranoia created by the corporate gun lobby that has far too much power for the small group of people it claims to represent. Why? Money. Corporate profits.
We should stop being afraid of the corporate gun lobby and more afraid of the results of their influence- that being regular massacres and regular shootings all over the country.
And so we have a conundrum caused by the corporate gun lobby. Most states already have self defense laws that allow people to defend themselves in their homes with the "duty to retreat" if possible. That wasn't enough for the NRA lobbyists. They wanted to expand self defense to public places and take away the duty to retreat. The onus was then placed on the victim rather than the person who made the first move. But here, now, is the law being carried to its' most ludicrous end. A home invader is claiming Stand Your Ground after shooting a South Carolina home owner. Seriously.You just can't make this stuff up.
This is what we get for going along with the corporate gun lobby. We have passed laws that make no common sense whatsoever and, indeed, make us all less safe. The laws have lead to some tragic consequences. We should be having a conversation about these consequences. The cases keep coming as the laws are now in effect in more places and being used by more people after shootings.Gregg Isaac began his trial last week for a confessed home invasion in 2005, where he shot and killed Antonio Corbitt in front of an 8-year-old child. After the trial judge originally denied Isaac’s motion that he could use deadly force under the state’s version of Stand Your Ground law, the South Carolina Supreme Court agreed to halt the proceedings and hear the case to determine a procedural point.The reason the Supreme Court will consider the case has to do with exactly when a judge should hold a hearing to determine whether the defendant is immune from going to trial and the defendant’s right to immediately appeal; it will not tackle the substance of the law, according to The State. If the Stand Your Ground hearing determines the shooter was protecting himself in a place he had a legal right to be, then the case never proceeds to a trial.The state’s 2006 law is nearly identical to American Legislative Exchange Council model legislation that states a person not engaging in 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.”Isaac almost certainly would not win with this argument. He did not have a legal right to Corbitt’s apartment: He broke in with two other men, and when the resident looked like he “was going to pull a gun from his pants” Isaac shot him twice. Even though Isaac does not have a credible chance to walk free under Stand Your Ground, the South Carolina Supreme Court may decide he should get the hearing that was previously denied where his lawyer will repeat the argument. Once rejected, the case would move onto a murder trial.While Isaac’s case goes too far, other Stand Your Ground defendants have succeeded on dubious legal claims authorized by the statute’s broadly permissive language. ProPublica has highlighted some of the most notable Stand Your Ground cases that have led to freedom from criminal prosecution: One man avoided prosecution for shooting two men he suspected burglarized a neighbor’s home, another killed a mentally disabled man who was unarmed, and yet another was let off for chasing a burglar for more than a block.Most famously, Zimmerman originally claimed he had immunity from prosecution because Florida’s Stand Your Ground allowed him to pursue Trayvon Martin for looking suspicious. He dropped the claim, and argued self-defense instead when he went to trial, but the jury instructions contained Stand Your Ground language, and a juror admitted it still played a role in their decision to acquit him of all charges.Empirical evidence also shows how the law perpetuates racial bias in the justice system: A white shooter who kills a black victim is 11 times more likely to walk free than a black shooter who kills a white victim.
Another case in Arizona is highlighting the loopholes and the problems with Stand Your Ground laws:
This "deeply-engrained gun culture" is something unique to America. It's too easy to kill someone over nothing. I came across an article by Adam Gopnik writing for the New Yorker about this culture. He took an interesting historical view into self defense laws and how they came about in America compared to other countries. Here are a few of his observations:The Arizona case has been called "the reverse Trayvon Martin". Cordell Jude, 22, who will go on trial next month for the murder of Daniel Adkins, 29, was black and the dead man was Hispanic.Arizona followed the example of Florida's ground-breaking Stand Your Ground law passed in 2005 and enacted its own dramatically expanded self-defence statute the next year.This legislation gives people who feel threatened the right to deploy lethal force rather than choose to retreat if they can - not just within their homes, but anywhere they have a legal right to be.With the blunt Western swagger of a state that was the scene of the shoot-out at the OK Corral, the Arizona law is officially called "Make My Day" -- the catch-phrase of Clint Eastwood's vigilante police officer in the Dirty Harry films.In some states, even gun rights supporters of Stand Your Ground laws shy away from the vigilante comparisons; not in Arizona evidently.The confrontation took place in early April 2012. Mr Adkins, who according to his family say had the mental age of a 13-year old, was walking his pet Labrador past a fast food drive-through counter when Mr Jude pulled around the corner to pick up his order, his pregnant fiancée sitting next to him.Mr Adkins version of events, like Trayvon's, will of course never be known.What seems clear is that Mr Jude slammed on the brakes, narrowly missed Mr Adkins, and the two men then exchanged insults.Mr Jude told police that Adkins "air swung" his hands in the direction of the vehicle and that he believed the walker was wielding a three-foot metal pipe or bat, a weapon that was never found.The driver said that he drew his pistol, which he had a permit to carry, when Mr Adkins again raised his arms - and shot Mr Adkins in the chest.His fiancée called the police and Mr Jude told them he had no choice but to shoot as he believed Mr Adkins would have killed them had he not fired.To the dismay of the Adkins family, it appeared that Mr Jude's assertions that his was a "Make My Day" case were going to be accepted. "Why didn't he shoot my son in the leg?" Daniel Adkins Sr asked at the time. "It would've stopped him. He hit him right straight in the heart. He shot to kill."Only after three agonising months and an intense lobbying campaign, though one that garnered nothing like the attention of the Trayvon Martin case, was the shooter arrested. He will go on trial for second degree murder, the same charge brought against Mr Zimmerman, on Aug 14.While Mr Jude was still a free man, the Adkins family wrote to Trayvon's parents. "Nobody knows the pain of losing a son in this way besides them," Mr Adkins' father said. "His mother, she just wants justice for her son, just like we do. I'll go anywhere it takes, talk shows, make signs, whatever it takes. I'm not letting my son die in vain."Such killings and prosecutions have put the focus on self-defence and lethal force laws, and the ease with which they have been adopted across a country with such a deeply-engrained gun culture.
The nonchalance is troubling. Guns are dangerous. But some folks think that we should all just get used to loaded guns in public places. Then folks like Zimmerman won't seem so weird and crazy when they lurk around in the dark under the guise of being a neighborhood watch volunteer looking for suspicious characters, following them with their loaded guns. These folks are trouble waiting to happen rather than the opposite of finding trouble everywhere they look. They are shootings waiting to occur. More from Gopnik's article:But at least some of the factors driving the verdict—in particular, the Stand Your Ground law in Florida—don’t seem extreme at all, in the sense of alien to the American scene. (That the shooting happened in Florida, though, does seem to provide mordant further proof of my intuition that Florida is now where the theatre of American violence plays out, as it once did in Los Angeles.) One can start by pointing to a connection between two weird pieces of the whole horrible business. First, why would anyone, as Zimmerman did, forge such an urgent sense of identity from his role as an armed, make-believe policeman or neighborhood vigilante—an identity that led him, at a minimum, to walk around with a concealed handgun and take needless risks likely to end in tragedy?Second, and just as important: Why does Florida allow men to carry guns so casually? How could Stand Your Ground, which seems, after all, like an invitation to the kind of violence that laws and societies are meant to prevent, have evolved with such seeming nonchalance?
This violence-encouraging doctrine has persisted, and so, too, has the reasoning of the judicial decisions that established it. There is no invocation of natural law; the argument isn’t that all men have an inherent right to kill when threatened. The appeal is, rather, to a kind of implicit cultural law: it is not in the American character to retreat. Beneath the surface of the liberal state and the legal rules designed to limit violence and to grant a monopoly on its use to a freely elected government, there is a national character that has to be protected—or, perhaps, invented. Appealing to that shadow nation impels the romance of violence in American life, and gives it practical and legal sanction as well. The legal liberal America is treated as a flimsy effigy, without the spirit to do the things that true Americans do—above all, act out violently with guns. And that identity is regarded as more worthy of protection than their citizenship.
Abraham Lincoln discussed this romanticization of violence in 1838, in one of his earliest public speeches, “Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.” What, Lincoln asked, threatened the well-being of American democracy? Only one thing: vigilante violence, “the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” He detailed the epidemic of violence and then located its cause in the need for what we would now call identity politics. Constitutional institutions might be equitable, but they were lacking in (and it’s striking that Lincoln used exactly this word) “authenticity”—the dry, rational legal system that the revolution had insured could never satisfy Americans’ need for an emotional connection with the past and with each other.
Lincoln’s own call, in response, was for an ever more radical rationalism: “Reason, cold calculating unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense.” This was the doctrine underlying the Civil War, and it also makes clear Lincoln’s readiness to go to war on behalf of what seemed, to outsiders, like a puzzlingly arid legal principle: that the Union was not dissoluble. But he put his finger on why—with every fact pointing to the truth that the more armed men we have, the more homicides result, to the inarguable reality that more guns always mean more deaths—we persist so stubbornly in holding weapons dear.
In plain English, it’s part of the cultural foundation of the country. Stand Your Ground, as it’s now called, or “no duty to retreat,” as it was called back in the day, is irrational, because it’s meant to be. Attorney General Eric Holder’s blasting of Stand Your Ground strikes something deep-seated, no matter how twisted. Those of us who are haunted by the sight of violence struggle to understand why, in the face of so much evidence, irrationality is allowed to rule. Lincoln’s answer was that it’s because the symbolic identity that guns provide matters more than the rational calculation of the harm that they do. When, Lincoln wondered, would Americans outgrow this feeling? In 1838, he thought it would happen soon. And here we are, still wondering.Gopnik, and many others, are wondering why it became more important to protect gun rights than to protect human life. The fact that the corporate gun lobby has maintained that only guns can protect us all from the other guns out there is circular and specious reasoning. It doesn't make sense, actually, to most rational people. It is irrational, as Gopnik poses it. So as Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign said after the George Zimmerman verdict:
The Brady Campaign has been one of the leaders in fighting against “Stand Your Ground” or so called, “shoot first” laws like the one in Florida. As evidenced by the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, these laws have deadly consequences. They promote a dangerous mentality and misperception about weapons, by overemphasizing their value in self-defense relative to the other dangers that they pose.The misperception is that people's desire for guns for self protection, hunting and recreation have become their sacred rights above all others. Some feel they need their guns to fight against the duly elected government just in case of tyranny. They either don't or can't understand that the rest of us- the majority- see those guns as the cause of too much devastation to our communities. At the least, there need to be more, rather than fewer, regulations on who can buy a gun, who can carry a gun, what type of gun average citizens should be able to own and where these guns can be carried. We are the only country in the civilized world not at war that makes it easier, rather than harder, for deadly weapons to be owned and carried by everyone- not just law abiding people- but anyone. This is troubling. We are better than this. It's time for a change. I feel change coming. Gun rights advocates fear that the changes will result in their guns or rights being taken from them. Until we can have a serious discussion about the truth or deception of those claims, these folks will never agree to the change. But reasonable gun owners, reasonable elected leaders, reasonable Americans just know that close to 200 years after Abraham Lincoln made his remarks about vigilante violence threatening America, something has to give. Lincoln understood that more guns and more armed citizens would naturally lead to more homicides ( and of course to suicide and accidental deaths as well). Of course they do. It just makes common sense.
In my post above I said that people are shooting other people over nothing. Here now, from the state of Missouri is an example of just that:
A float trip on the Meramec River this weekend took a tragic turn when a homeowner -- allegedly angry about a man urinating on his private property -- pulled out a gun and shot a man to death, cops say.
Tragic. Senseless. Shooting someone who urinates on your property? Why? When people have guns, they just might use them. Let's hope this guy doesn't get away with murder.The suspect, 59-year-old Steelville resident James Crocker, told cops, "It's my property, and I was going to protect it," according to court records released today.After fatally shooting the victim, identified as 48-year-old Paul Dart Jr. from Franklin County, Crocker reportedly went to a woman's home nearby and "asked her to call 911 because he had just shot someone on the river," the Crawford County Sheriff's Office says. (...)The victim's widow, Loretta Dart, tells the paper that about 50 of them started an annual seven-mile float trip at 9:30 a.m. and that they had decided to stop so that she could get a beverage and her cousin could urinate.She offered the P-D this heartbreaking account of the shooting:"This guy comes out of nowhere. My cousin Bobby went up to go pee in the woods, and this guy comes out behind him with a gun and says, 'This is my private property. Get the (expletive) off of it.'He's waving his gun at everybody. He shot between Bobby and Paul on the ground. He shot in the air, too....My husband tried to calm the guy down. He went to the guy's arm to try to stop him, but the guy jerked back and popped him in the face....I watched him be shot in the face and fall down. I watched my husband bleed to death. He was a wonderful man. He didn't deserve this..."The woman told the paper that the gunman looked crazed. The paper also notes that property rights along the river are not always clear because the vegetation line changes with river levels.