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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Remembering Trayvon Martin and civil society

Today is the second anniversary of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. His name has come to represent a gun culture gone wrong for people who care that lives are taken for wearing a hoodie while walking through a neighborhood and being black. George Zimmerman's name has become a household name for many reasons. He shot Trayvon Martin that dark and rainy Florida night for looking suspicious. His story is still in doubt since once the victim is dead, he/she cannot speak for him/herself. So it became his word against that of a dead person and circumstantial evidence. Florida's Stand Your Ground law helped with the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Some will say it didn't. The jury instructions were clear. Or were they? The problem seems to be that the instructions to the jury are confusing and muddy. The NRA sponsored law intended it to be just that way. People can get away with murder if there is little clarity to the jury in cases like this.  They cast doubt in the minds of the jury and the onus is then to prove that the killer was in a state of mind to feel it necessary to kill a victim while "feeling" threatened.

I just read this OpEd piece in the New York Times written by Philosophy Professor Firman DeBrabander from the Maryland Institute College of Art. DeBrabander looks at Stand Your Ground laws from a philosophical point of view and makes a case that Stand Your Ground laws don't fit with a civil society. He comments also on the recent trial of Michael Dunn and the shooting of Chad Oulson for texting in a movie theater in Florida. From the article:
The letter of the law, Romine argued, is concerned only with whether “Reeves thought Chad Oulson would hurt him.” A report inThe Times noted that Mr. Dunn was subject to similar protections: “[U]nder the law, Mr. Dunn needed only to have been convinced that he saw a shotgun, whether or not one was present.”
I believe that Stand Your Ground has already done damage to civil society by encouraging gun owners to carry their weapons in public, and reach for them quickly, instinctively. It promises to escalate minor altercations into deadly conflicts. And the law will surely motivate others to be armed, too, if only to protect themselves from trigger-happy citizens like Reeves or Dunn. Stand Your Ground propels us into the worst kind of armed society. (...) Our innate drive for justice may well lead us astray — and be foiled. When we fail to grasp all the facts of a situation, such as the real intentions of a perceived attacker (or the state of his “weapon” — popcorn, for example), this may lead us to react with excessive and unjust force. In such cases, I need what Locke calls a Common Judge who might inform me better. An independent, objective Common Judge, to whom I shall defer, is one mark of civil society. Without recourse to a Common Judge, violent reprisals spawn violent reprisals in turn, which are each seemingly just, and a cycle of violence — a state of war — is born. Civil society, and its institution of a Common Judge who takes over executing the law of nature, relieves us of the “Inconveniences of the State of Nature,” Locke argues — which can be dire indeed.
Proponents and defenders of Stand Your Ground effectively wish to return us to a State of Nature and its attendant “Inconveniences” — and dangers. LaPierre urges individuals to presume the worst about supposed assailants — damn the consequences. As Locke has it, however, civil society is characterized by a departure from such presumption. When individuals feel such strong passions — anger, fear, hatred — and are liable to act irrationally and regrettably, that is precisely when they must be prevented, as far as possible, from wielding definitive force. And they must be thus prevented in order to honor and promote the instinct for justice surging through us. This is the critical role that civil society plays; for Locke, it perfects nature.
Gun rights advocates argue that we must arm more people, and empower them to wield their guns confidently and boldly if we would achieve greater law and order. They have it wrong. More guns, and more emboldened gun owners, lead to more travesties of justice, more chaos, vendettas, a state of war, Locke would say. Ironically, this also defeats the other cause célèbre of the gun rights movement: autonomy. For gun rights advocates, the gun is the premier mark of individual sovereignty. I believe this is what makes the gun rights movement especially intoxicating for millions of Americans, and resistant to reform and regulation. However, autonomy is doomed in a Stand Your Ground world. It makes no sense to speak of autonomy, freedom, or self-determination in a state of war. As Locke knew too well, the sovereignty of the individual is intolerably tenuous where all are sovereign. Of course, this suits the N.R.A. just fine, and the industry whose interests it represents.
The thing is, we live in a democracy- a civil society. We are not in a state of war. But if you listen to gun rights activists and right wing extremists, you might think we are. For example, the gun advocates in Connecticut are making noise about an insurrection in the state. Why? Because common sense gun laws passed in the legislature during the last session. Gun advocates don't like gun laws. It's a funny thing. These folks make a lot of noise about all of the gangsters and criminals out there who don't obey laws. So they believe, apparently, that we shouldn't pass any because these folks don't obey them anyway. Now that they are faced with the proposition of obeying the laws in their state, many have decided they won't obey them. Ah- the hypocrisy of it all. I guess it doesn't occur to these folks that simply following the laws already on the books would be a good idea.

Instead it sounds like Connecticut should prepare for civil war. Read this article and tell me that isn't what they want:
How long will it be before there is bloodshed over this law?  We’re not sure, but we’re confident it is coming unless the law is rescinded or struck down by the courts.
Mike Vanderboegh of the edgy Sipsey Street Irregulars released an open letter a couple of weeks ago, warning of what’s coming to Connecticut.  The Connecticut State Police aren’t listening.  Yet.
We suspect attitudes may change after the first few rounds of bloodshed.
As it stands right now, the best estimates are that 4% of newly-regulated guns and magazines in The Nutmeg State have been registered, leaving a hundred thousand or more newly classified potential felons looking over their shoulder.
This sounds pretty antagonistic and provocative to me. This, in combination with NRA Board member Ted Nugent's incendiary comments, lead us to believe we may be looking at potential civil unrest. What I get the biggest kick out of are the comments at the end of this screed. If it wasn't for the fact that most of the commenters likely have arsenals in their possession, it would be funny. As it is, it's pathetic at the least and potentially scary. All it will take is one guy with an assault rifle deciding on his own to act on the stupid and dangerous ideas presented in the above article and others like it. And these folks are out there living in our "civil society". Check out this Insurrectionist Timeline.

So aside from the fear of indiscriminate confiscation of guns, which is apparently a real fear for these folks, there is something else going on. Noam Chomsky has some thoughts on this particularly American phenomenon. From this article:
That's a lot of what lies behind the extremely unusual gun culture in the United States.  It's quite unique.  Homicides, deaths by guns in the United States are way outside—there's a kind of hysteria about having guns.  A large part of the population believes they just have to have them to protect themselves.  From who?  From the United Nations.  Or from the federal government.  From aliens.  Maybe from zombies.  Whoever it is.  We just have to have guns to protect ourselves.  That's not known elsewhere in the world.  Maybe in, say, Syria, a country that's warring you might find something like that.  But in a country that's not only at peace but has an unusual security and a great degree of freedom, that's quite remarkable.  
I suspect that what you're bringing up is part of that.  I think it's, much of it is kind of just a recognition, at some level of the psyche, that if you've got your boot on somebody's neck, there's something wrong.  And that the people you're oppressing may rise up and defend themselves, and then you're in trouble.  And another is strange properties the country has always had of fear of invented dangers.  There is a kind of paranoid streak in the culture that's pretty unusual.
The American gun culture and the fear and paranoia promoted by the gun lobby is unusual for sure. But that cannot be a reason not to change the conversation around guns and gun violence or to pass stronger gun laws. For when we live in a civil society where people are not in constant fear of each other, we should find better results. We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated at the end of a gun barrel by those who are ready for violent actions against their own leaders.

Interestingly, there is new information about the rate of gun deaths in Connecticut after new gun laws have passed and, likely, the general atmosphere in the state home to the massacre of 20 first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary school. Check this out:
 Murders in Connecticut last year dropped below 100 for the first time in a decade, according to a memo from the governor's office that credits statewide initiatives aimed at combating violence.
Statewide criminal arrests hit a ten-year-low as population increased, and non-fatal shootings in the state's three largest cities dropped consecutively over the past three years. The report, from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Office of Policy and Management, listed 97 murders in 2013. The number is the fourth lowest in the past 40 years, and follows three years of murder totals above 125.
State leaders attributed the crime reduction to shooting task forces, community policing programs, and other investments in gun violence prevention efforts introduced in recent years.
"Our cities and towns are undoubtedly safer than they were five years ago, as evidenced by the dramatic reduction in statewide murders and the reduction of shooting incidents in our urban centers," said OPM Criminal Justice Undersecretary Michael Lawlor, in Tuesday's memo to Gov. Malloy.
The statistics do, however, mirror a national trend – FBI data released last week shows that violent crime and murder rates in the first half of 2013 were lower than those of the same six-month period the previous year.
Gun laws matter. A civil society leads to a safer society.

Another unusual American phenomenon is that of carrying loaded guns around in public places. And to make matters worse, even our own lawmakers make mistakes with their loaded guns and sometimes don't even follow their own laws. Mother Jones has made a great list of legislators and lawmakers "accidentally" discharging guns. Read it and tell me this is an example of a civil, safe society at work. We are going down the wrong road and hypocrisy reigns. It needs to be called out for what it is. If the very legislators who pass laws like conceal and carry and Stand Your Ground into law can't themselves be safe with their own guns, why do they not think of the consequences of the laws before pushing the yes button?

So when looking at what has happened in America since the Travyon Martin shooting, the Sandy Hook shooting, the trials of George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, the rhetoric of the gun lobby during these events and in light of new gun laws, can we say that we are still a civil society? I hope we can. But the gun rights extremists are moving in a dangerous direction and attempting to take the country with it. Those with common sense will resist this attempt with reasonable discussion and reasonable laws to make sure we keep our country civil. The majority has told us repeatedly that they want a safer country with stronger gun laws. And that is what the extremist minority is fighting so hard to stop.

What kind of society do we want? Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is faced with that choice right now as she is contemplating whether to veto a law to allow businesses to discriminate against gay/lesbian citizens under the guise of religious freedom. She knows the right answer. Civil societies don't discriminate. Civil wars have been fought over things like this. Civil societies don't encourage the shooting of their citizens. We deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness and to be safe in our communities from violence. We are better than this. Let's put our collective heads together to decide what kind of country we want to be. We can be free from the gun violence that is epidemic in our communities if we are willing to speak out for and demand civility and public safety.

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