Guns, Death And Destruction In America Today
Recent events in this country have seen an escalation in gun violence both by and directed towards police. Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN, both black men, were shot dead by police officers under circumstances which were not only questionable at best, but were widely broadcast as a result of Facebook and cell phone video technology. In the wake of these shootings, nationwide protests included one at which an individual (not one of the protesters) shot several Dallas police officers, killing five and endangering many others.
These incidents are similar in nature to other killings in recent years dealing with African American males and police which have merited national coverage and discussion pertaining to both police procedures (as well as accountability) and gun control legislation. There are, however, some details which add significant wrinkles missing from previous discussions.
After previous renditions of police officers fatally shooting unarmed young black men, some police forces began equipping some of their officers with body cameras to document events as they were happening. That was the case in Baton Rouge, where the cops involved in Sterling shooting were equipped with such cameras, but they fell off and recorded nothing of the incident. Obviously, non-operational cameras do not add to the accountability of the officers involved. A nearby individual with a cell phone and a convenience store security camera were able to record much of the action, however. Sterling was carrying a weapon, legally, but there was no evidence he attempted to use it. The gun was removed from his pocket after he was shot.
Philando Castile was likewise legally armed – and had obtained a concealed carry permit for his weapon.. He told officers of this fact and was apparently in the process of reaching for the pertinent documentation when he was shot inside his vehicle, which also contained a young child and his fiance. His fiance was streaming the incident live on Facebook. So far, no charges have been placed against the officers involved, but investigations have been launched and they have been suspended from duty.
Since these shootings took place, many peaceful demonstrations have taken place in various cities throughout the country involving the Black Lives Matter movement and other organizations calling for action to reduce the occurrence of such incidents and to increase accountability of the police officers involved in shootings and other inappropriate usage of force in the line of duty. The Dallas mass shooting incident targeted police officers involved in monitoring such a peaceful demonstration in that city. Initial reports speculated that multiple snipers were involved, but that was corrected when the lone gunman was killed and no other suspects discovered.
The rhetoric surrounding all of this activity is bound to ratchet up in the days ahead. It always does, usually culminating in much ado accomplishing little if anything in the way of practical solutions to lessen the tensions or reduce the impact of future incidents of this nature. The only people fairly certain to profit from all of this activity are the gun manufacturers, those groups (most notably the NRA) which lobby Congress and state legislatures on their behalf, and certain politicians who will see their campaign coffers filled to the brim with donations seeking their votes to prevent any meaningful legislation passing to harm the perceived profit margins for these merchants of death.
Every time any incident like this takes place, or a mass shooting with multiple deaths occurs in a public place, raucous cries arise to do something to control who has guns and who is prevented from having them, how to better weed out cops who abuse their authority, how to better protect those who serve and protect us as police officers from the dangers which have come to increasingly plague them in the course of their service. None of the usual arguments for minimizing restrictions on gun possession seem to hold much water under normal circumstances. That is even less true in dealing with these incidents.
Gun advocates who oppose any and all movement by legislative bodies to further restrict sale or possession of firearms in order to end or severely curtail this seemingly endless stream of gun violence and death always say publicly that MORE guns are needed, not fewer. Each individual should be allowed to purchase and bear arms to protect themselves and their loved ones from the bad guys with guns. Schools, churches, shopping centers, movie theaters – you name it. You need good guys with guns around to stick up for the innocents when the bullets start flying.
Worked out well for Sterling and Castile, did it not? They took the steps necessary to defend themselves, but in doing so, left themselves open to becoming victims of the very people we hired to keep us all safe from crime. The defense that will be used should any legal charges be brought against the cops responsible for their deaths will undoubtedly involve their fear for their own lives at the hands of the people they shot. Many will say the attack and murder of the police in Dallas points out the validity of such arguments. They will undoubtedly also use the Dallas attack on police doing their job as an excuse (or, if you choose to be more diplomatic, justification) for further militarizing of our police forces.
Fighting fire with fire usually is counterproductive. We have more guns than people in this country. So many people owning guns makes most of us less safe, not more safe. Militarizing the police raises, not lowers, the tensions that caused the protests in the first place, without really doing anything to prevent a single person acting alone from doing exactly what was done by the perpetrator in Dallas.
Other countries do not have nearly the number of mass murders as we do. Some do not even normally arm their police with guns. Nor do they have nearly the extent of violent death at the hands of police officers. Ditto for the obviously disproportionate racial identity of the perpetrators vis-a-vis the victims of such violence. The facts speak for themselves. Groups like Black Lives Matter don’t spring up out of irrational paranoia over imaginary injustice. The deaths in LA and MN do not exist in a vacuum – they were preceded by many other similar instances, some of which were even clearer examples of the perpetuation of injustice. Peaceful protest calling for more of a response on the part of government to reign in that injustice is not only appropriate, but encouraged by the existence of the First Amendment. Damping down the ability to express their outrage to protect the rights of any deranged, violence prone, mentally disturbed and/or religious zealot – terrorist or not – to own an arsenal capable of creating the mayhem visited on Littleton, Sandy Hook, Orlando…(you get my drift) is not only Unconstitutional, it’s morally reprehensible. My right not to be shot by you – intentionally or not – outweighs your perceived need to be able to do so.
Every recent instance of a mass shooting like Orlando or Dallas has resulted in cries for gun control which prompt more people than ever before to go out and buy guns and ammunition in anticipation of a crackdown on gun ownership that never even comes close to happening. Thus, the manufacturers make even more blood money, the leadership of the NRA (which obviously doesn’t even represent the opinions of the majority of its members, let alone the general public) gets to strut its stuff making or breaking political careers, and the cycle continues. Conditions calm down for a bit, but no lasting change is effected. The same has been true of the institutionalized racism present in the criminal justice system and the activities of too many of our police forces.
We need to start making our state, local and national governments more accountable for their action or (as is more often the case) inaction in the face of these very real problems facing our society. Obviously, action is called for. Innocent people being needlessly murdered so that a small portion of us can satiate their greed has gotten way out hand. A political system that fails to address such widespread and growing issues needs to be called to task. Clamp down by making gun purchases, ownership and possession more difficult. Not everyone is willing and/or able to responsibly own a gun. Nobody’s right to bear arms should overrule others’ fundamental human rights. Restricting the types of weapons and ammunition legally available is also appropriate. A nuclear weapon is not needed to swat flies nor is a military assault weapon needed to hunt deer or scare off intruders.
The technical revolution that we’ve been experiencing in recent years also makes it more difficult to cover-up abuses of power and criminal conduct on the part of those who are supposed to be protecting us from such behavior by others. The correct response to this is for law enforcement officials to root out legally and morally reprehensible behavior on the part of their members, not seek to excuse it or brush it under the rug. Social media, cell phones and surveillance cameras are good ways to catch criminals in the act. If we are using them for that purpose, keeping police activity of a questionable nature out of public view is unacceptable. Making private citizens criminals by making filming cops illegal would not be a good way to enhance police/community relations. They must be as accountable for their actions as the rest of us.
Decreasing the damage that a lone gunman can do, along with decreasing the overwhelming prevalence of firearms in this country, can significantly lessen the anxiety of people in general and increase safety for the public at large as well as police officers. Bemoaning our fate and just mourning the dead gets us nowhere. Doing so only serves to bide the time until the next unspeakable act of horror is committed. Confront the purveyors of the violence we seek to reduce or eliminate. Pass laws that will make everyone safer, not merely more dangerous, as individuals and collectively.
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