You can’t just shoot people
Some things should hardly need saying. It’s not ethical or legal to shoot someone for ringing your doorbell. Or leaving your driveway. Or rolling a basketball into your yard. Or accidentally getting into your car before quickly leaving it.
In recent days, more than half a dozen Americans have been shot for precisely those reasons. The alleged perpetrators were black, Latino and white, and the victims came from a variety of backgrounds, too. The shootings happened in blue states and red, in urban areas and rural. But they shared a common denominator: the dangerously wrong idea that people can fire their guns whenever they feel frightened, or even just annoyed.
By championing so-called stand-your-ground laws, Republicans have fed a public misperception that threatens innocent people. Even in the nearly 30 states that have adopted such laws, which give people the right to use deadly force if they fear for their lives, shooters must be able to establish that their fear was reasonable. Paranoia is not a defense. It’s a delusion.
That delusion is fostered by a gun lobby that wants Americans to think they’re constantly under siege, which is turning what should be harmless everyday misunderstandings — “Hey, sorry about that” moments — into terrible tragedies. When some people hear “Knock, knock,” they’re no longer asking, “Who’s there?” Instead they’re grabbing their guns, and sometimes blasting away.
The lobby’s promotion of paranoia appears to be especially effective with men, who commit the majority of gun slayings. It’s no surprise that all four shooters were men, two of them in their mid-20s. Insecure young men have long sought to establish their virility with violence, and in particular with guns. (As an advertisement from Remington Arms Co., touting a semiautomatic rifle, once put it: “Consider your man card reissued.”) The cost of this misconception can be staggering; surviving victims of the young shooters included two cheerleaders and a six-year-old girl.
The other cases were no less disturbing. An 84-year-old man in Kansas City was charged with assault and armed criminal action after allegedly shooting a 16-year-old who came to his front door, while a 65-year-old man in upstate New York was charged with second-degree murder after allegedly shooting a 20-year-old passenger in a car that briefly entered his driveway. Both shooters seemed to think that the “castle doctrine” — a legal concept that may permit the use of force when defending one’s property — allowed them to fire with impunity. It does not.
It’s encouraging that all four alleged shooters are being charged, but these tragic incidents will continue until more Americans speak out against the gun lobby’s fearmongering and the “guns everywhere” agenda it pushes. At a minimum, Second Amendment enthusiasts should stop pretending that bombastic rhetoric about guns — now expressed everywhere from campaign ads to Christmas cards — has no effect on public attitudes toward their use.
As for stand-your-ground laws, studies have turned up compelling evidence that they increase homicides and injuries. They also encourage violent escalation of public disputes and fail to deter crime. It’s hard to think of a more hazardous policy for a nation brimming with guns. Repealing such laws in the states where they prevail would be a step toward sanity.
One thing all Americans should agree on is that owning a gun comes with responsibilities. One of the most basic is self-restraint. Just feeling scared doesn’t give anyone the right to kill. All gun owners have an obligation to employ reason, sound judgment, and above all common sense. It’s sad that such things need to be said. But here we are.