In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I continue to ask myself why does anyone ever need to own an assault weapon? Take any of the semi-automatic AR-15 rifles that are available on the civilian market. Is a rifle with a possible fire rate of 800 rounds per minute, if fully-auto, and firing the same round used by NATO troops, needed to drop a deer?
As following any mass-shooting, the debate over gun control has hit the main stage again. As the country transition from mourning to trying to gain meaning from this senseless act of violence, the very nature of gun related violence is being examined across the country. Shootings like Sandy Hook, add to a sad and long list of mass shootings in the U.S., forcing open once again the conversation on finding a way to prevent these senseless acts of violence from occurring again, if even possible.
From the public’s initial response, comes a call for tougher gun control. According to a recent ABC news poll, 54% of Americans now favor stricter gun control, while gun advocates have called on arming more people. Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic, recently published an article arguing that the best way to combat gun violence is with more guns, that a better armed population will actually deter crime. In respond to Goldberg’s article the Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald, published his own piece debunking the more gun argument, stating that there is “no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime.”
A few years ago, I wrote an article on how lax gun control in the U.S. had fueled Mexico’s drug war, where 90% of guns recovered at crime scenes had originated from the U.S. As drugs flowed north into the U.S., guns and money flowed back south into Mexico. Since guns are heavily regulated in Mexico, criminal organizations are willing to pay large amounts of money to get their hands on guns, and their weapon of choice are simi-automatic asssult rifles that are readily available on the civilian market.
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, a mere few months after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. I have a simply question, why are assault weapons still available on the civilian market? Do sportsmen really need a weapon that fires an armor piercing round, similar to the ones used by NATO combat troops? Do they need a weapon that can fire hundreds of rounds per minute to hunt deer? The answer to those questions is simply no, but sadly these weapons are being marketed as “sporting rifles” and are easily available on the civilian market. Its as easy as walking into your local Wal-Mart, where weapons like the Bushmaster .223 rifle used in the Sandy Hook shooting are sold.
The inability to control the distribution of assault weapons in the U.S., since the Federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, has not only helped to facilitate shootings like Aurora and Sandy Hook but has also fueled the death toll seen in Mexico. Its time for the Federal ban to be reinstated.
In the wake of the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin, has Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has given leniency to anyone who uses deadly force under the pretext of self-defense. Martin’s death echoes back to the 2007 shooting deaths of two men by Joe Horn. Who under Texas’ “Castle Doctrine“ was not prosecuted for the shootings, despite shooting the two men in the back as they retreated, after burglarizing the home of Horn’s neighbor. Laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground,” and Texas’ “Castle Doctrine” have given way to 24 other states enacted similar legislation. Ushering in new era of vigilante justice, where proving if a shooting was in self-defense has shifted from the shooter to the state.
According to the New York Times, on the evening of February 26, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin was on his way home from a convenience store, he would not make it home alive. On the night of his death, Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head, something that caught the attention of 28 year-old George Zimmerman.
Since the shooting, the hooded sweatshirt had become a lighting rod for activists in support of Martin and even Geraldo Rivera, who has apologized over a comment he made, suggesting the hooded sweatshirt Martin was wearing led to his death.
On the night of incident, Zimmerman called to report a “real suspicious guy,” that was “up to no good and on drugs or something.” After giving the police dispatcher a description of Martin, an African-American male, Zimmerman tells the dispatcher ”they always get away.” Zimmerman then proceeded to follow Martin, disregarding the dispatcher telling Zimmerman not to.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer took his position seriously. According to the NY Times article, Zimmerman, “a criminal justice major in college, often patrolled the streets in his car. In the last 14 months, Mr. Zimmerman had made 46 calls to the police, officials said, reporting everything from alarms and disturbances to reckless driving and, most commonly, a “suspicious” person.”
What happend next is up for debate. According to ABC News, a phone call between Martin and his 16 year-old girlfriend caught the last moments of Martin’s life. According to Martin’s girlfriend, whose identity is being withheld, said Martin had noticed Zimmerman following him.
Martin girlfriend stated in the article,‘“He [Martin] said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” Martin’s friend said.” I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run. Eventually, he would run, said the girl, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.”’
She added, “Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn’t answer the phone.”
Zimmerman claims that Martin had attacked him first when he was returning to his vehicle, punching Zimmerman in the face and slamming his head onto the pavement, according to The Huffington Post.
What is known, is a scuffle did ensue between Martin and Zimmerman. Ending in Martin being fatally shot by Zimmerman. Who was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, despite being “arrested in 2005 on charges of resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer. The charges were later dropped,” according to the New York Times. Zimmerman stated in the 911 call when he had originally spotted Martin, he witnessed Martin reaching into his waistband, giving the impression of Martin being possibly armed. Martin was in fact unarmed, having in his possession only a can of iced tea and a pack of skittles candy that he had purchased at the convenience store.
When the police arrived, they found Zimmerman armed with a handgun, standing over the body of Martin. Zimmerman told police he killed Martin in self defense. “Taking him at his word, police do not arrest him, nor administer a drug or alcohol test.” According to ABC News. Zimmerman has yet to be arrested or charged for the shooting, and is currently in seclusion due to the intense backlash from the shooting.
Due to the statue of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, law enforcement officials will have a hard time pressing charges against Zimmerman. The Florida law “grants immunity to anyone who uses deadly force, inside or outside his home, if he can reasonably claim he was defending himself.” Since the passing of the law, “The Tampa Bay Times found 130 cases in Florida in which Stand Your Ground was invoked. In more than 70 percent of the cases, someone was killed. But only 28 of the cases went to trial, and only 19 resulted in a guilty verdict.” It will be up to a Florida grand jury to deicide on April 10, if Zimmerman should stand trial.
Given the tragic consequences that legislation like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” have evoked, how is it possible for such a law to pass in the first place and spred to over 20 other states. It all has to do with the National Rifle Association (NRA). Who according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, are using “fear and paranoia” to expand laws like Florida’s into other states.
In 2004, the NRA honored Republican Florida state legislator Dennis Baxley with its Defender of Freedom award. The following year, Baxley worked with the NRA to pass Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, allowing citizens to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” their safety was in danger. “People no longer would be restrained by a “duty to retreat” from a threat while out in public, and they’d be free from prosecution or civil liability if they acted in self-defense,” according to Susan Ferriss of The Center of Public Integrity.
The law has open the flood gates to “justifiable homicides” in Florida, which spiked from “an average of 34 yearly to more than 100 in 2007,” according to Ferriss. The terms in which the law was meant to be applied are so vague, it may just help to shield acts of violent aggression as self-defense. The controversy over the shooting had led Baxley to state ”that his law shouldn’t shield Zimmerman at all, because he pursued Martin,” according to Ferriss.
In 2007, “the Virginia-based National District Attorneys Association issued a report, “Expansions to the Castle Doctrine,” warning that the phenomenon “could have significant implications for public safety and the justice system’s ability to hold people accountable for violent acts,” stated Ferriss. Given the broad protection that Florida’s law gives people who act in self-defense, a type of justice first seen during the days of the wild west will rear its ugly head around. Where a court, a judge and a jury were unnecessary. The one holding the six-shooter decided it all. Where as if these laws remain common place, the justice system will be taking a page out of a Charles Bronson movie.