The tragedy of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida highlights the madness of the “carry laws” allowing citizens to carry guns on the street to “protect themselves.” This folly is compounded by Florida’s “stand-your-ground” statute that permits people who feel their lives or safety are threatened, to use deadly force against the individual or individuals they believe are endangering them, or if they believe criminal activity is occurring. This is not an issue of just one self-authorized vigilante killing an innocent teenager, but of a culture that allows citizens to carry guns and shoot people based on a subjective judgment.
The problems with these laws have been disregarded by legislators in submission to the NRA in Florida and numerous other states. It is difficult enough to determine when policemen have acted appropriately in shooting someone they consider dangerous. When a civilian is involved in a confrontation, the uncertainty escalates. Since any non-felon can be licensed to carry a gun on the street, there is no way to exclude racists from targeting minorities, gangs from killing adversaries, people from settling grudges with individuals they dislike, or self- authorized vigilantes attacking those they consider bad guys, all claiming the shootings were done in self defense.
Are we still in the Wild West era on the frontier where citizens had to carry guns for protection and there were shootouts in the streets? Or perhaps we are devolving into a society similar to Iraq, Yemen, or Afghanistan. Can the revival of feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys be far behind? Maybe we should also allow honor killings of women who disobey their parents and have sex with a boyfriend.
Politicians on both the right and left constantly talk about American exceptionalism in a positive way, separating the nation from all others as a hallmark of freedom and democracy. The ability of citizens to utilize firearms is another way the U.S. is different from other countries. America is the only developed nation that permits citizens in many states to carry weapons on the streets, some including schools and other public places. Allowing home owners or business owners to have guns on their premises to protect themselves is understandable, or hunters owning guns, or skeet shooters. But the “liberalism” that many conservatives have shown in regard to gun rights makes no sense. And it is not only the carry laws, and stand-your-ground laws but allowing people to own assault weapons, sniper rifles, rockets and grenades for “self-protection.” This should not be acceptable in a civilized nation.
One interesting element in the Trayvon Martin case is that the “stand-your-ground” Florida statute would have justified Martin’s shooting George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain, who shot him. Zimmerman, who appears to be fifty to a hundred pounds heavier and much taller than Martin in photographs, followed Martin around after having been told by the police to cease and desist to allow them to handle the incident. But he persisted anyway and apparently got into a fight with Martin. We know what would have happened if the situation had been reversed and a black teenager had shot a white man in “self defense.” If not shot by the police, he would have been thrown into jail.
According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, there were 13 killings in Florida that the authorities considered justifiable homicide in 2005. After the stand-your-ground law was passed, over the next five years an average of thirty-six killings annually were deemed justifiable. 19 other states have similar laws to Florida’s stand-your-ground statute, permitting the use of guns outside the home. Tragedies such as Columbine, Virginia Tech and the Gabrielle Giffords shooting have done nothing to halt the march of gun advocates that keep liberalizing gun laws. There must be a better way to make the nation’s citizens feel secure.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.
Political junkie, Vietnam vet, neurologist- three books on aging and dementia. Book on health care reform in 2009- Shock Therapy for the American Health Care System. Book on the need for a centrist third party- Resurrecting Democracy- A Citizen’s Call for a Centrist Third Party published in 2011. Aging Wisely, published in August 2014 by Rowman and Littlefield. Latest book- The Uninformed Voter published May 2020