Sunday, April 1, 2012

America and its Guns

The Trayvon Martin shooting has once again raised the issue of gun violence in America. Martin, 17 years old, and unarmed, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, 28 year-old George Zimmerman, who is being portrayed by many as the victim in this tragedy; a man who “stood his ground” in the face of an unprovoked attack. Supporters of Zimmerman may imagine him facing off against the hooded black teen and snarling, “Go ahead, make my day!”
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation is being cited as the reason police did not arrest Zimmerman. The facts of the case, however, would seem to rule out the applicability of this law, as Zimmerman was following Martin, despite being told by the police, “We don’t need you to do that,” and, as 911 tapes reveal, being told to stay in his car. Why didn’t he? Because he had a gun and the bravado that comes with it.
Washington has a law covering justifiable homicide, which is the rubric under which Florida’s “stand your ground” law falls. This law considers homicide justifiable when there is imminent danger of the slain person committing a felony against the shooter. RCW 9A.16.050, in combination with 9A.52.025 on residential burglary, is sometimes termed the “castle doctrine,” as in, “Your home is your castle.”
Could an incident like the Trayvon Martin killing occur here in Washington? Of course it could. Would our local police and state attorney’s office handle the matter in the same way the Sanford, Florida, police and state’s attorney handled the matter? We can only hope not.
Justifiable homicide is a determination for the courts to make, not the police at the scene of the crime. The police should have treated the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman as a homicide, collected evidence accordingly (including taking photos of any injuries to Zimmerman), taken Zimmerman into custody, requested an arrest warrant from the state attorney’s office, and turned the case over to the state prosecutor for disposition.
But this is not simply a case of poor practice on the part of Sanford Police and the state attorney’s office. Had George Zimmerman been black and Trayvon Martin been white, there is no doubt in my mind that Zimmerman would now be under arrest.
This is a case of racial profiling, by Mr. Zimmerman, who saw a black person wearing a hoodie and and assumed he was “up to no good,” and by the police and state’s attorney’s office, who made judgments about the case without thoroughly examining all the evidence.
But in a wider sense the Trayvon Martin shooting is an indictment of an American gun culture steeped in the mythology of the Wild West, infected with a paranoia so severe that gun proponents, principally the NRA, would rather see guns in the hands of terrorists than accede to reasonable restrictions, and tolerated by a US Congress too cowardly to confront the issue and say, “Enough is enough!”

The biggest obstacle to reasonable gun control in America is the National Rifle Association. It is opposed to virtually every form of gun control, including restrictions on owning assault weapons, background checks for gun owners, and registration of firearms (Open Secrets). The NRA claims to have some 4 million members and is, by some counts, the most effective lobby around today. Why? Because its members are generally single issue voters.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The National Rifle Association has used this logical fallacy repeatedly in its determined defense of an excessively broad interpretation of the US Constitution’s Second Amendment. Kim Jong-un, “Supreme Leader” of North Korea, might use this same argument in defending the DPRK’s right to possess nuclear weapons, “Nucs don’t kill people, etcetera, etcetera,” but certainly we are smart enough to recognize that it begs the question of whether just any state should be allowed to possess such weapons, or if, as a matter of common sense, there should be controls imposed. By the way, Kim Jong-un is about the same age as George Zimmerman.

The NRA felt vindicated when in 2008, five members of the US Supreme Court, cited the Second Amendment in overturning the Washington D.C. ban on hand guns (D.C. v. Heller). The Court concluded that the Second Amendment establishes an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense and hunting. However, the Court recognized that the government can regulate gun rights. The Court said its decision should not be interpreted to question the right of government to: prohibit felons and the mentally ill from owning weapons, prohibit guns in schools or public buildings, ban certain categories of guns not commonly used for self-defense, and to establish certain other conditions on gun ownership.
Despite the Court’s stipulations in the D.C. v. Heller case (and reasserted in McDonald v. Chicago, 2010), the NRA has fought any perceived infringement on an individual’s right to bear arms with the tenacity of a mother bear defending her cubs. The NRA even refused to meet with President Obama when he suggested a dialogue on ways to better enforce and strengthen America’s existing laws in the wake of the January 8, 2011, shooting of 18 people in Tucson, AZ, that killed six people, including a 9 year-old girl, Christina Green, and a federal judge, and left Representative Gabrielle Giffords brain damaged.
Guns do kill people, people with guns kill people, and they do it a hell of a lot more effectively than they would otherwise. And private Americans own more guns than any other nation in the world. The least we could do -- the very least -- would be to make obtaining a gun as difficult as obtaining a driver’s license.

The NRA recently successfully fought a bill that would have limited gun purchases by suspected terrorists. A 2010 GAO report stated that individuals on the terrorist watchlist were involved in firearm or explosives background checks 1,228 times; 1,119 (about 91 percent) of these transactions were allowed to proceed. They've also fought controls that would require gun dealers in the south west to report sales of multiple semiautomatic rifles. such as the AK-47, weapons favored by Mexican drug dealers.

In the NRA's militant battle over the Second Amendment, common sense has all but disappeared. Middle-ground, common-sense ideas over the years have included measures like the 1994-2004 federal assault weapons ban; the closing of the so-called gun show loophole (which allows private sellers, who are not federally licensed, to sell guns without having to conduct a background check — sales that reportedly account for about 40 percent of all gun purchases); and fixing gaps in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System regarding individuals with mental illness, drug abuse and domestic violence records. The NRA has fought them all. Successfully.

Christina Green, 9/11/2001 - 1/8/2011

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