The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Guns Do Kill People Part 3

Although it was illegal to do so, a New Year's reveler, hereafter known as The Fool, in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia fired bullets into the air just after midnight. Police responded to the shots and an officer, claiming that this same Fool pointed his gun at him, shot repeatedly at the Fool who ran into a row house where a party was in progress. Inside the house, five of the officers' bullets found bystander Abebe Isaac, age 33, who died yesterday as a result of the wounds. Other bystanders in the house and The (suspected) Fool were also injured.

Assigning blame in this circumstance serves no useful purpose, but some observations are in order. First, some traditions, such as firing a weapon at the stroke of midnight, have outlived their usefulness and need to be abandoned in favor of practices that are legal and safe. Revelry and guns do not mix under any circumstances. Anytime you have a loaded gun and a crowded party trouble lurks just under the surface. Second, if you do something illegal, the arrival of the police should be no surprise and you should emerge from the shadows with your hands up not with your gun drawn. Whatever you do, do not flee into a room full of innocent children and adults and put them in danger because you are a FOOL!

Now for the police. I am sure the it is impossible for someone who does not live in harm's way for a living to imagine the tension and stress that Philadelphia's finest feel whenever they answer a call about a shooting, even if they suspect that the gunfire represents overzealous celebrating. But we rely on law enforcement to be professionals. We as a society would never put guns in their hands if we did not have the assurance that they have been adequately trained in the proper use of those weapons. Firing 11 rounds into a crowded house cannot represent proper use. Talk about shooting into the dark. And there has to be some government accountability for accidentally shooting a bystander not once but five times. This is not to demonize the police officer as an individual nor the force at large, but it is to acknowledge that even understandable actions have unintended consequences. To his credit, the new police commissioner has indicated that there will be a thorough investigation.

Bullets can have no conscience. But individuals and communities must.


Sunshine said...

I noticed your series of Guns Do Kill People and I respectfully disagree with the singling out of guns. Frankly, there are a lot of things that kill people, but we don't (or at least not yet) ban them (although we're heading down this road). Thousands of people die, for example, in car accidents a year, but we still drive.

I've heard the argument that guns are only used to kill, unlike other things, like cars, and, therefore guns are somehow different. But, I would argue that guns may be designed to kill and be dangerous, but they serve an extremely important purpose in a free society.

First, I start with the simple premise that in a free society, my rights are not given to me by government, but subsist in my very existence.

Second, I would agree, that in a civilized society, certain "rules" should be established to ensure order and minimize the detrimental impact of my exercise of freedoms on others.

So, I begin with the belief that everything ought to be permissible, unless otherwise justified.

The particular issue of guns concerns me, not necessarily because I am a gun owner (I am not -- although hope to inherit my father's), but because I feel in a free society, I ought to have a meaningful right to defend myself. When I state a "meaningful" right, I mean, as a petite woman, I ought to have access to what may be necessary to defend myself or my home. I harken back to a case, cited in the case now pending before the Supreme Court on the DC gun law. The case cited was of a 1970s case in which 3 young women who lived in a home were brutely raped and assaulted in their home. What made the tragedy even worse, was that two of the women managed to hide upstairs, as the assault on the first woman was taking place. They managed to call the police. They called once, saw a police car drive by, but not stop outside, then they called again. When the commotion downstairs stopped and they thought the intruders left, they went downstairs, only to be attacked themselves. The police never came.

The city was sued for failing to respond. The court in the case sided with the city saying that the city only owes a duty to protect generally to the citizens of the city and that the duty is not owed to any citizen in particular.

The bottomline, I should have the basic right to use deadly force in protecting myself or my home. I should not be expected or asked to let the perpetrator break in, rape me and then hope that they don't kill me so that I can call the police to come after the fact.

Indeed, it bothers me, that as African-Americans, in particular, so many of us are willing to give up this right to government. I often harken back to incidents of police misconduct and racism and think to myself, "so, these racist police will have yet another excuse to kick down our doors and arrest people... or shoot." Why do we want to give them more power over us? It's strange how, since the inception of this republic, our ancestors fought for rights we have today, and we are more than willing to give them up. Indeed, one of those precious rights is the right to own a gun. How threatened white people were (and still are today) to see black people with guns -- whether when they were serving in the civil war or protesting with Malcolm X.

To me, people in our communities killing other people has less to do with the intruments of killing they use, and more with the problems in our communities. If we focused more on education...more on letting young people know that life is valuable -- theirs and others...if we invested in our communities...reached out to one another in need...supported our businesses and created jobs in our communities...that is what will truly save lives.

I wouldn't be surprised if one day guns were banned, particularly in urban areas (that's where we're headed), and later a case is brought protesting that the laws are discriminatory as they impact people of color more than whites. I raise this we this is the case with crack cocaine. In the 1980s, the Congressional Black Caucus was indeed one of the primary advocates for the higher penalties for crack cocaine over powder cocaine. their argument at the time was that crack cocaine was more addictive, cheaper and had a more devastating impact in black communities. So, in recent years, it seemed pretty ironic that that same CBC said the disparity in the penalties was disciminatory and racist and should be overturned.

The bottomline is that we often jump to what is seems to be the obvious solution, without looking at the impact of that solution. DC has some of the strictest gun laws in the Nation. No one can own a hand gun, period. Not even in their homes (unless purchased before 1976 or about then). Even the legal guns, like a rifle, must be registered with the chief of police, who has up to a year to say yes or no. Even then, you must retain the rifle unloaded, disassembled or locked at all times...meaning, even if I had a legally registered rifle in my home, the moment someone broke into my house and I loaded and reassembled the rifle to protect myself, I would be in violation of DC law (I have had numerous debates with a friend that used to work for DC about this and this is how the law reads). So, essentially, in DC the use of a gun to protect yourself in your own home is illegal, even with a legal weapon. So, one would think, then, that DC would be one of the safest cities to live in...NOT. There is not one neighbor in DC that is safe from violence. It has one of the highest crime rates and murder rates.

Well, I will end hear...I can go on and on...bottomline, criminals will always have weapons and definition, they don't follow the law. I just want to the right to have a fighting case if I wake up in the the middle of the night and find one of these criminals in my home.

And who knows, I might too need to defend myself from tyranny...

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