Sunday, February 16, 2014

Stand Your Ground and Concealed Carry: A Scourge Upon the Land

Michael Dunn stood his ground and blew away an unarmed 17-old boy over
loud music. He was acquitted of murder but found guilty on lesser charges.

There is so much wrong with our decisions, by the states or by the nation, concerning guns. Add a loose bunch of Castle-Doctrine and Home-Intruder laws to the newer Stand-Your-Ground statutes, multiply it by ever-expanding concealed-carry rights, and you have a recipe for violence to an absurdly dangerous degree. George Zimmerman gave us the Trayvon Martin tragedy, in which Zimmerman provoked an encounter by stalking a child and frightening him into standing his own ground with his fists, giving Zimmerman an excuse to kill him with his concealed gun. It's both absurd and horrifying that a jury would find him not guilty of any crime.

In another example of our growing national nightmare, a man provokes a confrontation with an SUV full of teenagers, who stand their ground over a loud-music issue, giving the man, Michael Dunn, the excuse to empty a clip into the SUV, killing one 17-year-old boy. Dunn drives away from the scene.

In both cases, the state was Florida. In both cases, the perpetrator was a white adult male. In both cases the victim was a black 17-year-old boy. In both cases, they were not convicted of murder because of the inability of 12 men and women to decide whether standing your ground for patently absurd reasons, especially if you're white and your victim is black, should lead to a conviction.

This lack of moral clarity in an evolved society in the 21st century is beyond all expectations of a civilized nation. Another way of putting it is, what the fuck is going on here?

The answer is something gross and astounding, something wildly divergent from any notion of civility. Instead, it invites us, almost demands of us, to return to the wild frontier days, to an Old West -- one that was probably safer than suburban neighborhoods are these days in Florida and Texas.

Dodge City, Kansas, 1878. The Wild West had murder rates
one-tenth what they are today. Most towns banned guns.

When I was a young boy in the 1950s running free across the pastures of Colorado, I used to play with my Fanner 50, a play six-gun that shot plastic bullets and made a loud noise if I added Greenie Stick'em Caps to the back of the bullet casing. I generally shot Indians because in my Wild West they were the bad guys, just as they were on TV.

But never in my worst nightmare did I think that almost 60 years later there would be 88 real guns for every 100 persons in the U.S. Never in my worst nightmare did I think a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would decide that limiting who can carry a concealed weapon was limiting a citizen's right to self-defense. Never in my worst nightmare did I think states would legalize the notion that, so armed, you had a right to stand your ground by shooting unarmed kids to death and thus be found not guilty for doing it.

To be fair, Michael Dunn was convicted of enough counts to spend the rest of his days in prison, though sentencing is a ways off. He may yet be retried on the murder charges and may yet be convicted on one or more of them. But the moral confusion washing through our society is frightening.

To be sure, there are men, enough of them, who would say to me, get over it, you fucking weenie. I don't want to. I don't choose to. I fear living in such a world. After we've reduced dramatically the chances of dying in a car accident or plane crash, after we've wiped out threats one after another, from scarlet fever to polio, small pox to tuberculosis, after we've learned to control diabetes and lessened the likelihood of so many different ways of dying "before your time," we run a considerably higher risk of getting shot to death because we got lost or knocked on the wrong door.

The twin causes of this new scourge is stand your ground and concealed carry, with an assist from weakened gun regulation. We are, by law, increasing the likelihood that petty beefs or petty fears in formerly carefree neighborhoods will escalate from dirty looks to fuck you no fuck you to I'm afraid of you to bang bang bang bang you're dead.

I'm not a weenie, I am or was a carefree guy, who still gets pissed off when somebody cuts me off on the highway but now thinks twice before expressing signs of outrage. In some ways, that might be progress. Ah, let it go, road rage is for losers.

But one clear reason I back off more than I used to is that I'm not sure the dude isn't packing heat and newly emboldened to use it.

"Heck, officer, I couldn't be sure he wasn't going to haul off and run me off the road. If you'd a seen the look on his face, you'd a shot him, too."

I live in the middle- to upper-middle-class wine country north of one of the most vibrant, successful economies in the history of the world, the San Francisco Bay Area, though it's one that's part of the jurisdiction affected by that stupid concealed-weapon decision down in San Diego, a decision that has a chance of being overturned.

I've personalized this, made it about me, not because it should be but because all of us, I believe, should feel this personally, viscerally, as I do: We're living in a time and place where safe passage is less and less guaranteed, for what can only be considered absurd reasons.

What's going on? Really. What's going on?

George Zimmerman realizes that he's just been acquitted.

Note. Read about the effects of such laws here, here, here, here, here, and here. It's disturbing to note that concealed carry laws have spread to 49 states, and some form of stand-your-ground has been adopted in 32 states. My own state of California, which I thought did not have a stand-your-ground law -- and it doesn't -- has authorized a formal jury instruction that reads as follows:
“A defendant is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend himself or herself and, if reasonably necessary, to pursue an assailant until the danger of (death/great bodily injury/<insert forcible and atrocious crime>) has passed. This is so even if safety could have been achieved by retreating.”
So, under California law, someone could pursue another person until the danger has passed even if safety could have been achieved by retreating or not pursuing. This is a clear justification for killing someone even when it's obvious that it could have been avoided.

California is Florida. Holy crap.

And the question I always end up with is this: Is this the country you want to live in? Would you instead prefer an America that made choices like Japan, where there are .6 guns per 100 citizens instead of 88 per 100, or a gun-death rate of .06 per 100,000 instead of 10.3 per 100,000? I would.

We have thousands of murders by gun per year. Japan has very, very few. For example, in 2008 Japan had none. Zero. In a country of 125 million.

Go ahead, say we aren't Japan. Go ahead, say we're different, that we couldn't possibly have a safer country without guns. Say it. Then search deep within your soul to find why you would justify such violence. I can't.

A Japanese gun store. Actually it's a Tokyo video game store. Since Japan
doesn't have gun stores as we understand them, this is as close as I could get.

An American gun store.

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