I've had a bad cold all week, so I've spent more time than usual on the couch, listlessly watching TV. I haven't been able to get away from the Trayvon Martin story. It's a parent's worst nightmare. A son goes out one night on an innocent errand and they get an early morning call that he's been killed.
A dangerous, self-appointed neighborhood watch guy, George Zimmerman, who was armed, shot and killed the 15-year-old. 911 tapes showed clearly he was pursuing the boy, who was unarmed except for a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles candy, by invoking some bizarre law called "Stand Your Ground." It assures people who are threatened that they don't have to run, they can just shoot the people they feel are a threat. Then it's considered justified.
Sanford, Florida, where it happened, apparently has Keystone Kops for a police department. No investigation was done of the shootiing, except for taking the shooter's word for the event. That's despite 911 tapes which give our ears quite a different version from that which he is claiming. The dead boy was tested for drugs and alcohol—which they didn't find—but they didn't test Zimmerman.
This seems to be an example of the law of unintended consequences, from the passing of more and more gun-friendly laws by local legislatures. The right wing agenda, which is apparently to get guns into the hands of everyone in the country (well, except for criminals, who already have them), fueled by the NRA's money and massive lobbying power, which has successfully waged war on gun control laws enacted since the 1960s and 1970s.
I'm on record as saying that gun control in America has failed. There are so many guns now it would be impossible to call them in, even if the big bad bogeyman government the NRA hates so much were to send soldiers to every house to collect them. (A paranoid fantasy the NRA has successfully implanted in the minds of gun owners.) The problem isn't the guns, it's making them easier to carry and to use that is the problem. I have absolutely no problem with someone owning a gun for self-defense, target shooting or hunting. I have a lot of problems with people using guns to solve problems that can be solved in ways other than lethal force.
Law-abiding Americans who love guns should be happy not to live in Japan. In an article, "With All Due Respect" by Peter Hessler, from the January 9, 2012 New Yorker, I read, "In Japan it's a crime to own a gun, another crime to own a bullet, and a third crime to pull the trigger: three charges before you even think about a target." Of course, Hessler also states, "Japan has "some of the lowest murder rates in the world, on a par with Iceland of Switzerland; the odds of being murdered in the United States are ten times higher."
Gun ownership is almost a second religion to some Americans, given their use of hyperbole such as "God-given right to keep and bear arms."
In 1970 I remember the buzz around the movie, Dirty Harry. It's a right-wing polemic about liberal court decisions of the 1960s, but it's also a modern Western. The sheriff, Clint Eastwood, rides into town and with his big gun cleans it up. It's a fantasy Americans have always lived with and thrived on. It's like we're thinking no matter the problem, we can always shoot our way out of it.
With the Trayvon Martin killing, now more attention is being paid to laws regarding guns. My opinion is there has to be some sort of middle ground. Having laws that people have a waiting period to buy guns in a store, so a background check can be made, but allowing a person to buy a gun at a gun show or in a private transaction with no background check doesn't make much sense.
Having laws that encourage people to stand and shoot it out rather than retreat is plenty macho, and in some cases, plenty stupid.
I have a theory that I hesitate to use, because when I speak it, it tends to get shouted down. I can't really prove it, even though years ago I had a coworker admit to it. I believe some people are looking for a legal way to kill someone. If it means invoking a law like Stand Your Ground they'll use it.
Copyright © Oliphant 2012