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October 4, 2010

Celebrating Death

Late last month, the National Rifle Association’s Institute of Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) posted an alert highlighting an editorial by the founder of www.libertyunderfire.org. Quoting the first paragraph of the editorial, the alert read:

In light of the double murder in a prominent California city where two 16 year old thugs with baseball bat and knife bludgeoned an elderly couple to death after first robbing them in the hopes of acquiring more money for their frequent marijuana usage, I wonder if this tragedy may have been avoided had the victims used a gun to protect themselves. Many crime victims also are victims to our society's undying trust that if we are law abiding, others around us will be also, and those who are not will be dealt with swiftly by law enforcement. Such is naive, impossible and a great American myth.

A typical gut reaction to the story would be, “Sure, it would be great if all elderly couples were armed and ready to deal with murderous thugs.” After all, this was a horrific tragedy that involved the senseless loss of precious lives in a heinous crime. Caught up in emotions like anger and fear, one might forget that only 86 Americans were murdered during home burglaries in 2007. During that same year, of course, there were 613 accidental firearm deaths, 12,362 firearm-related homicides, and 17,352 suicides committed with a gun (CDC data, WISQARS tool). Furthermore, the FBI has confirmed through its Uniform Crime Report that victims know their murderers personally more than ¾ of the time (i.e., they are family members, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, co-workers, acquaintances, etc.).

That has not stopped the NRA from perpetuating the myth that one must constantly have a loaded gun at the ready to deal with evil, faceless criminals, however. Since 1958, the NRA has published a column in its American Rifleman magazine entitled, “The Armed Citizen.” The column highlights “incidents of law-abiding Americans using firearms to halt or prevent crime” and elevates “justified” killers to the status of cult heroes.

Even assuming that the gun lobby has little regard for the Ten Commandments, a closer look at their “Armed Citizen” clippings reveals an overall picture that is far from black and white in terms of guilt and innocence. It seems that the only requirement for inclusion in the column is if a “good guy” shoots a “bad guy(s),” no matter what the particular circumstances of a given case are. Keep in mind, too, that many of these incidents take place in states where the laws governing the use of lethal force have been dramatically liberalized by NRA-drafted “Castle Doctrine/Shoot First” statutes.

Here are some recent examples of “Armed Citizens” Tweeted on the NRA News feed:

  • On September 10, an auto sales store owner in Imperial, Missouri, was sleeping at his business when he heard the sounds of a door rattling and glass breaking. Confronting a burglar at the door, he fired two shots from a revolver, killing the man, who was in his late 30s/early 40s. The would-be robber had no weapon of any kind and there was no indication that the shop owner’s life was under threat.

  • On September 16, Michael Pickering was at home in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, when Robert Lee Green, 48, appeared at his kitchen door and began knocking aggressively. Pickering, who knew Green personally, opened the door and told him to leave. According to Pickering, Green then rushed into the house. Pickering shot him in the head with a handgun, killing him instantly. Green had no weapon on him when he was killed. Pickering was taken into custody and an investigation is ongoing.

  • On September 17, Theodore Vinnet, 82, heard a noise outside of his window in St. Rose, Louisiana, and suspected someone was robbing his carport. According to Vinnet, he opened the window and blindly fired a round from his shotgun to scare the burglar. Instead he shot Morris Paul Jr., 39, wounding him. There was no indication that Paul had a weapon or made any threats to the homeowner. Vinnet failed to report the incident to police and was arrested later that day and charged with aggravated battery.

  • On September 21, 15-year-old Otilio Rubio, 16-year-old William Murphy, 17 year-old Zachary Garcia and 15 year-old Austin Clements randomly chose a house to break into in their Davenport, Florida neighborhood. Homeowner Jose Luis Oyola-Aponte, 37, fired a handgun at Rubio and Murphy, hitting Rubio in the head and Murphy in the abdomen. Rubio died the next day at the hospital. Oyola-Aponte initially told police that the Rubio was in his home with another boy when he shot them. Later he changed his story, stating that Rubio had one leg in his window when he shot him. Murphy was shot as he stood outside the house. When police searched Oyola-Aponte’s home, they found a bag of cocaine in a fanny pack, which resulted in his arrest for possession of drugs and intent to sell. There is no indication that the teenagers were armed with weapons of any kind during the break-in. Only Rubio had any previous criminal history.

Why would anyone glorify a substance abuser and possible drug dealer who shoots two teenage boys, killing one? And isn’t it patently obvious that all of these incidents could have—and should have—been resolved without the use of lethal force? It is understandable that Americans would want to take reasonable precautions to defend themselves and their families from crimes. But when individuals open fire on unarmed perpetrators—some of whom have yet to commit any crime—it is hard to argue that justice is being done. Our country has never defined property theft as a capital crime—and for good reason.

The NRA might feel that it is “naive” for Americans to have faith in law enforcement, but these trained professionals are there for a reason. One of their primary duties is to ensure that conflicts in local communities do not escalate into unnecessary violence. Whatever the NRA thinks can be accomplished by Americans shooting each other (beyond increased gun sales), it will never lead to a more peaceful society.

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