Thursday, March 22, 2012

On gun violence and Trayvon Martin

Sorry to jump on the bandwagon of obvious criticism and understandable outrage regarding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, but it seems there are two highly unequal laws that allowed this to happen.  First, many states have very liberal gun ownership and carry laws.  You have to wince at the irony that most of these are extremely politically conservative.  Second, the "stand your ground" law gives you the right to use deadly force without trying to retreat if you are outside your house.

It isn't very difficult to find an overabundance of commentary on how dangerous these laws are.  Let's approach the issue instead from a question of equality.

On the surface, a state that allows carrying concealed weapons would seem to provide uniform privilege to all law-abiding citizens.  However, since not everyone exercises this right, anyone carrying a weapon is radically more lethal than most everyone around them.  What kinds of restrictions are placed on carry permits?  Since Florida is in the news, here is information from its Division of Licensing.  First, A Note From the Commissioner says:
Applying for a license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm for self-defense is a right of law-abiding Floridians. However, you must remember that a license to carry a weapon or firearm concealed on your person does not authorize you to use that weapon. Use of a concealed weapon or firearm is regulated by other provisions of Florida law. It is my hope that you will exercise your lawful right to carry a concealed weapon or firearm responsibly, properly, and safely.
Please note that the lawful use of the weapon is only expressed as a hope.  Seriously, just a hope???  I tell my children "I hope you don't hit each other" but they still do; fortunately a slap isn't very long-lasting, but does land them in time-out.  The state says "we hope you don't kill other people" and yes, if you do, you will probably land in jail, but that doesn't bring the other person back to life.  In any case, we grabbed an application here, and find the minimum requirements for a concealed-weapon permit are:
  • You must be at least 21 years of age.
  • You must meet the CITIZENSHIP and RESIDENCY requirements set forth in the law. 
  • You must be able to provide a CERTIFICATE OF COMPLETION from a firearms training class or other acceptable training document that evidences your competency with a firearm. 
  • You must not have a DISQUALIFYING CRIMINAL RECORD or other condition that would make you ineligible for licensure. 
  • You are required to be familiar with Florida law.
Note that you do not need to pass a test proving you understand Florida law, nor a psychological profile to ensure you are stable and safe enough to be entrusted with this weapon of death.   You just need $117, fingerprints and a visit to a pawn shop to have unfettered access to an instant killing machine.  Lest we say again, even if you are punished for breaking the law with your firearm, you can't bring your victim back from the dead!  Which returns us to the original point: allowing ordinary citizens to carry firearms, whether concealed or in plain sight, makes those citizens lethal and deadly in ways that no other law-abiding citizen can be.  A person who can't afford a gun, or doesn't want to carry one, or whose religion prohibits it, should never find themselves in mortal danger because some people around them are packing heat.  There should be more between life and death than hoping the citizen gun owner keeps calm in a crisis.

The second issue is the extension of the "castle doctrine" to "stand your ground."  Over 30 states have some form of a castle law that says you can protect yourself from harm while on your own property without trying first to retreat.  You can shoot a person who comes through your front door to hurt you, rather than first trying to run away to safety and calling 911.  This permission to use of deadly force if you believe you or someone with you are in imminent danger is often argued as justifiable homicde.  Some states extend this right to protect yourself retreat and without fear of prosecution to your car, your business, or in the case of stand-your-ground, anywhere you stand.  Again, one can easily argue that these laws give everyone the right to protect themselves if they feel threatened, which provides equal protection to all citizens.

What happens when the state combines stand-your-ground with the right to carry a deadly weapon?  People die when they didn't need to.  This isn't a legal statement on guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.  It is much simpler: if these two laws had not been on the books, Mr. Martin would still be alive.  Chances are good that Mr. Zimmerman would be too.

Stand-Your-Ground and Carry Permits create a combination that has far too great a potential to take innocent lives to be considered safe for the general public.  They create an invasion into the rest of our rights to exercise life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  They must be changed.

Please, write your lawmakers and explain that the potential to use lethal force in public must only be given out under very special and much-more highly regulated situations.  Share this and ask your friends to do the same.  If you hear back from them, please let us know.

1 comment:

  1. This was really an informative and interesting post that i have come across in recent times. Thanks for taking the time out to write this for us.