Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Guns, Guns Everywhere

Robert's got a quick hand.
He'll look around the room, he won't tell you his plan
He's got a rolled cigarette
Hangin' from his mouth, he's a cowboy kid
And he's found a six-shooter gun
In his daddy's closet, with a box of fun things 
I don't even know what
But he's coming for you, yeah he's coming for you. 

The oddly up-beat song "People Pumped Up" describes the story of a teen and a poorly-hidden gun, with not so-subtle, sinister undertones of what is about to happen/what has happened.

I was reminded of it reading the tragic story unfolding in Orlando, Florida. Apparently, a 17-year old kid called Trayvon Martin was out in the early evening to buy a package of Skittles candy and a bottle of iced-tea.  According to the story reported in many locations, a member of the local Sanford, FL neighbourhood watch thought Martin to be "suspicious," called 911, was told to leave the follow-up to the police, ignored that advice and trailed after Martin in his car, gun in hand...

This country has a long history of truly senseless killing, but this one strikes a nerve on several levels.  There are elements of race and class to spice it up (though the alleged shooter, George Zimmerman is Latino), but what it amounts to is one more person, carelessly brandishing a gun, thinking he is Charles Bronson.

I'm personally a lot less concerned in the racial angles (NY Times columnist Charles Blow at the week-end weighed in with his typical equanimity in a piece subtitled "The burden of  black boys in America") than in asking why guns are so readily available, and why this weekend warrior felt empowered to ignore the local police, cruise around his block with a weapon, and ultimately shoot a 17 year old boy whom he outweighed by 100 pounds?  What makes America so reliably violent?

Despite the fact that crime has fallen spectacularly in the past decade to levels not seen previously in my lifetime, we continue to hold on to the fear that The Giggler is lurking in the shadows, and to the fantasy that we are Paul Kersey, with a handgun at the ready to defend against the out-of-control thugs.

Zimmerman, who ironically is the one in the story with an actual arrest record for a previous run-in with the cops (Trayvon Martin has a clean rap sheet), after being admonished by the police to leave the policing to them, grumbled that "these *expletives* always get away."

The Sanford DA at first was not going to prosecute Zimmerman, stating that there was no evidence to support an arrest. Florida has recently passed a "stand your ground" law that permits deadly force when one feels threats to person or property.

Predictably, that has drawn an outcry.  I find the reaction to be too close to mob rule for my tastes - the prosecutor should not be goaded into arresting a person whom he thinks is not guilty to placate an angry group.  That is little removed from the sort of vigilanteism that was pervasive in the past.

But the facts in this case cry out for some sort of justice, up to re-examining the ease with which we carry guns.

And use them on each other.

PS - the state of Florida has today impaneled a grand jury to examine this case.  This is one of several steps that we should be taking.

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