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How Do We Prevent The Next Trayvon Martin Tragedy? Gun Control

Guns Kill Thousands of Innocent Victims Each Year. It is time to Put A Stop To These Senseless Deaths.

I wouldn’t call it an obsession exactly, but the killing of Trayvon Martin has occupied much of my attention lately.  Perhaps it is the senseless waste of a young life, or the fact that yet another parent has needlessly lost their beloved child, or the incontrovertible racist undertones, or the role unbidden fear played in his death (or all of the above) that has nurtured my mania. But while I have spent an inordinate amount of time reading news articles and watching one too many news videos on the case, not once have I confronted a meaningful discussion about gun control. 

Let’s be clear, it is highly likely Trayvon Martin would be alive today if George Zimmerman did not possess a handgun. Think about it. Two individuals come upon each other in the night. It’s dark and drizzling. One is shrouded by the hood of his sweat shirt, the other is hyped up by his role as community policer. They each have their own long list of anxieties and fears which eventually leads them to a confrontation. Without a gun, it’s a shouting match or maybe even a scuffle. With a gun, we know the ending.

The equation is simple: no gun, no death. 

Let’s do a little more math while we are at it. The Children’s Defense Fund released a report last week (to little fanfare, I might add) noting 2008 and 2009 studies which revealed that in the United States:

  • One child died every three hours due to guns (5,740 deaths to be exact);
  • One child was injured every 31 minutes due to guns (34,387 children injured to be exact);
  • The leading cause of death amongst male black teenagers was due to guns;
  • The likelihood of a black male teenager being killed by a gun was 8x higher than for white teenaged males;
  • And, black teens were 25x more likely to be injured (or killed) by a gun during an assault than their white peers.

Guns play a vicious role in the lives of all children, but they are particularly noxious for black children. It makes sense, and is necessary, that we are discussing the role of racism in Trayvon’s death. But don’t the statistics above call us to ask at all levels what can be done to avoid these tragedies? I know the right to bear arms is built into our constitution, but at what cost? Does supporting that “inalienable right” justify yet another senseless death? 

As it stands, nearly 45% of American households own firearms, that’s 4.3x higher than Italy, 10x higher than Greece, and 30x higher than Norway (where, by the way, the country has repudiated gun ownership even despite the horror of last summer’s murderous rampage.  Of those American households harboring guns, 67% of the them said they do so for security purposes. Really?  Seems to me these are just accidents waiting to happen.

I remember a neighbor of mine telling me about a play-date her son had recently been on. He was nine-years-old and had spent the afternoon at a new friend’s house. Turns out much of that afternoon was spent playing with the handgun the kid’s parent’s kept in their nightstand. 

“It never dawned on me to ask the mother, Do you keep guns in your house? And if you do, are they locked up?” my visibly shaken girlfriend said. 

I was shocked. In my “Mayberry” world, no one owns guns. You don’t need to because you know your neighbors and we all watch out for each other. So I decided to take an informal poll of my actual neighbors. Turns out, many more than I imagined do own firearms. Sure some of the guns were hunting riffles, but a surprising number of them were handguns, owned for security. 

In one conversation, a father said the recent break-ins helped him rationalize his decision to have a handgun next to his bed. “I want to be sure I can protect my family,” he said in all earnestness. 

The rash of burglaries is deeply concerning. There’ve been seventy one since January 1st and last year we had a total of 149 in Our Fair City. We haven’t seen numbers like this since 2007. That was just before Police Chief Lynne Johnson made national news when she told her officers racial profiling was justifiable.

Now we have our new police chief, Dennis Burns. He’s working hard to do the sensible thing, reaching out and telling us he needs our help to protect our neighborhoods. He’s reminding us to “Lock It or Lose It” and encouraging us to join our local Neighborhood Watch program. All good ideas, in theory.

It makes sense to lock our houses before we leave and getting to know our neighbors reaps a myriad of benefits including helping to keep a look out for each other. But while paying careful attention to the goings on around our city streets could be immensely helpful, I worry we are laying fertile ground for nurturing the fear that will create the next gun toting George Zimmerman.

We can’t eradicate fear or, much as we might want to, racism, but we can get rid of the weapons of violence that create victims as a result of fear and racism.  So while we sport our hoodies in an effort to demand justice, let’s not cover our eyes to the one solvable issue at hand: guns kill.  We can prevent thousands of needless deaths by removing them from the equation. 

The truth is we have to, because we don’t live in Mayberry anymore.

Volodymyr Butsky April 01, 2012 at 03:41 PM
"We can’t eradicate fear or, much as we might want to, racism, but we can get rid of the weapons of violence that create victims as a result of fear and racism." We cannot eradicate weapons of violence. These were around humans throughout entire history. So as long a violence exists, weapons will be there too. Are you going to take on and eradicate violence?! Really?! Wake up and realize that no matter what you want to happen, weapons, and firearms in particular, are here to stay. This is a hard cold fact. So you can either learn how to safely live with them or keep perpetually complaining about it and lobbying for anti gun laws that virtually never achieve their declared goals of curbing violence (its a simple statistical fact!), but instead alienate half of population and create an divided citizenry that votes to make sure other side does not win instead of caring for common issues.
Volodymyr Butsky April 01, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Think rationally. A lot of people like guns and believe that it is their right (and duty!) to protect themselves and their families from potential attacks. You may not agree with them, but they do not agree with you either. You can talk about your Mayberry world, but there is another world out there where violent attacks happen and where firearms are used about 10,000 times more often to stop the violence than to cause it. Yes, some people may act stupidly with firearms and cause harm to others. It is fact. But statistically there are so few of these cases that it just cannot possibly justify creating new laws in attempt to prevent stupidity. Try to understand why people have these firearms in their homes in the first place. For vast majority of gun owners it is like fire extinguisher or a seat belt in a car. You don't own them to cause fire or to crash your car. You own them just in case there is an accident. By the way house fire or a serious car crash statistically in the same order of probability for an average person as being violently attacked.
JB April 01, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Taking the weapons out of the equation would not guarantee that no one would have died. You can NOT even pretend to know that for sure. Since your entire article is based on this single flawed assumption you have rendered your entire story null. Even without a gun, knife, stick, brick, wine bottle, rope or piece of glass a death could have been the outcome! Let's outlaw all things that can do harm: No more windows (glass is sharp and we don't want stabbings), same with glass bottles, masonry (bricks are heavy...wait, so are rocks!). I am so tired of the anti-gun pandering. How about instead of going after the 2nd amendment we just take your 1st amendment Freedom of Speech so you can't talk about the 2nd! Flawed and poor article!
sp60 April 01, 2012 at 04:11 PM
All very compelling... I agree that the whole Martin-Zimmerman incident is a tragedy that could have been avoided. However 'gun control' is simply not the answer. For example, those statistics quoted about children being killed and injured by firearms are wildly inaccurate. They have been used by the anti-firearms lobby for a while now and have been shown to contain some pretty incredible 'assumptions'. First and foremost, they consider 'children' to be up to 22 years old. These deaths also involve any situation where a gun was present, even when it wasn't actually teh cause of death. Also, more then 80% of these were suicide. The majority of the rest were either criminal-on-criminal shootings (typically gang related) or justified shootings by police and citizens ruled as self defense. According to the CDC, there are typically 1300 accidental firearms deaths a year, of which 200 or so involve children under 14. While any child's death is tragic, firearms are far below the other causes of death like car accidents, poison and drowning. I believe they weren't even in the top 15 for the latest year reported As for the Martin-Zimmerman case, while the facts are in dispute right now, the author needs to realize that a 'scuffle' between a 30 year old man and a 17 year old football player can easily end in death or serious injury. So from my view, the authors 'simple equation' is just plain wrong.
jfh1945 April 01, 2012 at 04:59 PM
The writer speaks of the 'incontrovertible racist undertones' and, as sp60 notes, uncritically accepts claims by the Children's Defense Fund. So, let's look at those 'racist undertones.' The fact is, although self-identifying blacks represent perhaps one-eighth or so of the US population, they commit violence on whites over seven times more than the converse. Those are the raw numbers, not weighed. Is there something 'racist' about recognizing that? Since the author badly needs to do some research to justfiy her opinions, perhaps she can start with looking up reliable statistics from the CDC or the FBI and consider rewriting her opinionaire.
dont bother reading April 01, 2012 at 06:15 PM
I believe we need to outlaw cars, sugars and water. These things also cause children's deaths and health problems too. I mean really .... how may kids drown every year? If we teach our kids properly. Most of these things won't happen. Let's see if this author changes opinion once they are robbed at gunpoint. And then get shot anyways after. You can't stop violent criminals with words. This is a dumb article by a person who wants us all to just bury our heads in the sand and hope nothing happens.
Nogods April 01, 2012 at 11:38 PM
If Trayvon Martin had been allowed to legally carry a firearm he might be alive today. The criminals aren't going to turn in their guns when the law abiding are prohibited from owning firearms.
Herschel Jenkins April 02, 2012 at 12:10 AM
If Trayvon Martin had been allowed to legally carry a firearm he might be alive today, but then Zimmerman would probably have been dead. This may sound racist, but racial profiling would do a lot more to curb violence than taking innocents guns away to make them more vulnerable.
Ioanus Iratus Infernus April 02, 2012 at 12:18 AM
The author's entire article is based on a couple of assumptions that I know to be false based on unbiassed and completely factual personal experience (as opposed to drastically biassed statistics, like those used by the author). First assumption: in order to initiate physical violence, in percieved self-defence, a person must have a handgun; otherwise, the confrontation is limited to "a shouting match or maybe even a scuffle." Personal experience: I am a white, middle-class, 17 year-old male. I personally own (meaning that I personally bought, paid for, transported, and am in posession of) 1 switch-blade, 1 pocketknife, 1 multi-tool pocket knife, 2 throwing-knives, a 40" sword, a 42" sword, and 2 compound bows. I have also made 1 wooden and iron tomohawk, 2 sheet-metal shuriken, and 1 aluminum shuriken, and 1 "hidden-blade." I assure you that any one of these 14 objects (that my family had no involvement in the acquisition of) are perfectly capable of killing a person in at least 3 different ways each, despite the fact that none of them are handguns (or even firearms).
Ioanus Iratus Infernus April 02, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Even if I *didn't* have any of these weopons (which is highly unlikely since I carry either the switch-blade or the pocketknife, and sometimes both, on my person at all times) I would still have my body. I have been trained in a couple different martial arts. Counting only unarmed combat skills, I know roughly 40 different disarms, 50 incapacitating attacks, 35 crippling attacks, 15 stuns, 5 throws, and 15 lethal attacks. The point I'm trying to make: even a 17 year-old kid can kill and/or injure a person in an inconcievable (to the author) number of ways without being anywhere near a gun of any kind.
Pete Flanagan April 02, 2012 at 12:23 AM
All I know is this...if I was walking through a neighborhood at night and someone followed me around in a vehicle and later exit that vehicle and pursue me, I would have shot that person. So, if I had been in Trayvon's shoes, I probably would have shot and killed Zimmerman. The problem is, I am White. That means the press would have been blaring, "Racist White Man Guns Down Hispanic Community Watch Captain."
Ioanus Iratus Infernus April 02, 2012 at 12:47 AM
I would kinda feel like a dick if I used that much space to make each of the 7 points that I had origonally intended to make, so I'm going to just leave it at that. It's not like your article hasn't already been (figuratively) killed (no pun intended... that would be really distasteful) by the people who commented before me. As an anarchist, I just get a little pissed-off when people claim that more government "regulation" is "needed." It's better for your precious little society if I vent my frustration in words than if I were to do it by... doing something that I thought about typing until I remembered that the Department of Homeland Security uses internet phrase-searches to identify potential threats (which I did not intend to imply, in case this is found by said phrase-searches anyway).
In Palo Alto April 02, 2012 at 01:28 PM
I own a few guns and I am not going to get rid of them regardless of what you or anyone else thinks. It is my right as an individual to own and carry weapons as upheld by the Supreme Court. If you want gun control, start amending the Constitution, because any regulation otherwise is a non-starter.
1? April 03, 2012 at 06:35 AM
Gun owners, when is the last time (if ever) you used your gun for self defense? ...
jfh1945 April 03, 2012 at 07:31 AM
@1?: About four years ago, in a Target parking lot. It prevented a carjacking--my own.
Volodymyr Butsky April 03, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Are you implying that if majority of people never had to use guns for self defense, guns are not needed? Using the same logic: When did you last time use your car's airbags? I guess these are not needed, right? At least for majority of people who may live through their entire lives and never get into serious car crash where airbags would save lives.
1? April 03, 2012 at 04:53 PM
@ Volodymyr, Yes. Airbags and guns are not the same, one is designed to save lives the other is designed only to take life. In modern society we are not savages that need to kill each other to survive. Like most people reading this, I like to think I live a pretty sheltered and safe life. However, I have been in 2 situations that some people say they might need a gun. 1. A shooting in a Home Depot parking lot 2. While I was a manager on duty at a Starbucks, stray bullets from a situation outside entered our store. Both times I never felt the need to find a gun and shoot back, my initial instinct is to duck, then leave the area when safe. Also, some in this blog are comparing other weapons that have the potential to kill to guns. Here's the difference between guns and other weapons, a gun can change lives in a split second, any other weapon, it would take to attacker more time to kill, possibly saving the life of a victim. I want to reiterate Volodymy, you cannot compare a product designed to save and protect lives to one designed to take lives.
Volodymyr Butsky April 03, 2012 at 05:39 PM
@1?: It is very common misconception that primary role of firearms in society during piece time is for killing. It is simply not true and statistics shows it. Depending on who you choose to believe on numbers, firearms are used from about 80 to 250 times more often to prevent serious violent crime than to commit it (http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_gcdguse.html). Also please try to answer a simple question "why do we arm our police" using your logic. I hope your answer will not be "to kill people"... The misconception about firearms is created mostly by media that tends to show and concentrate on ONLY cases where firearms are used to commit crimes. For "some" reason our media completely ignores that firearms more often used to protect lives (often without firing a single shot!). Your reaction to shootings near you, but not directed at you, is completely rational, but this is not what I was talking about! My car airbags do not need to deploy when car next to me crashes into a wall. ;) So let me reiterate: the primary role of firearms is to protect lives through a fear of retaliation. This role is clearly demonstrated by both, civilian and law enforcement usage of guns.
1? April 03, 2012 at 08:29 PM
@volodymyr to gain some kind of common ground, I should be clear onwhere I stand on guns. The only people I want to have fire arms are trained military personnel and public law enforcment officers. In Arizona, where I recently relocated from, it is very easy to buy a gun, and also very easy to get a concealed weapons permit. The kind of people that actually carry guns in AZ quite frankly scares me. I am very thankful for the regulations on gun ownership here. That being said, the goal and purpose of a gun is to kill. Some people use it as a deterrent, however, the main purpose in the invention of a gun was to kill. There are better solutions that even police officers use now, like tasers (though I am not always a fan of a taser in the hands of the wrong person). Airbags were designed as a helpful tool. In our modern civilization, I feel our right to live without fear of being shot at, far outweighs the right for anyone who feels they want to have a gun to get one. Guns, at times are necessary, but assuming Zimmerman is guilty, or looking at the many people I have seen who legally own a gun scares me. I know we will never rid our society of guns, but I definetly would like to controll which type of person is allowed to own and/or carry a gun. I don't think most preople living in modern times really need a gun for self protection. I can't think of a time where I needed one.
1? April 03, 2012 at 08:37 PM
I also am hesitant when I hear arguments and complaints about the media. We all know that there is media biased to both sides of any decisive topic. I am not referring to any media story or "numbers" or "facts" from any source, we all know that most of the time numbers are skewed. Instead I look at what is actually happening in the world around me.
Volodymyr Butsky April 03, 2012 at 09:15 PM
@1?: There are so many stories of people using guns for self defense, but somehow you do not see it as a valid case. I blame it on media. Or to be more precise on media sources you choose to watch. There is no denying that guns can be and are used to protect lives. It is a simple fact. The question is if these saved lives outweigh lives lost because of criminal misuse of guns. It looks like we both agree that in hands of trained and conscious people, like police, guns can be a very useful tool. The question is do I have to be a police officer to be able to carry firearms on streets assuming I get adequate training with firearms and laws. A lot of people assume that I have to be and support laws like once we have in California where license to carry is simply impossible to get for a regular citizen. The reality is that almost all other states of the Union already tried to let citizens who passed a background check and demonstrated their proficiency with firearms to carry concealed and, despite of dire predictions of blood running on the streets, nothing happened! If anything, violent crime rate had gone down. Some people believe that one of the reasons for crime going down is regular citizens who carry firearms, but even if you do not buy it, you still have to respect the fact that rate of violent crimes did not increase. So the fear of armed citizenry is not rational.
Volodymyr Butsky April 03, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Speaking of fears, your fears might be understandable, but they are not based on facts and therefore remain just that - your personal fears. I will never agree that your fear of guns may outweigh my right to keep gun for protection, however remote the chance of using it might be! Unless you can show with facts that me having guns is somehow depriving you from something tangible, your opinion about who should or should not have guns is not valid to me. And your support for my civil rights being denied based on your feelings is appalling to me.
Volodymyr Butsky April 04, 2012 at 02:44 PM
@1? Me and every gun owner I know have firearms not because we afraid that something will happen to us, but because it is a smart thing to do. It is like a seat belt in a car for us. Me having gun does not impact you in any way period. You do not have ANY logical argument to show that my right to own and carry firearm impacts you in a negative way. As you already know, other states implemented a lot less restrictive laws allowing citizens to carry concealed guns for self protection. CA is keeping its very arbitrary and restrictive gun laws on the books. You may not realize that most of these laws were introduced in CA as measures to keep blacks and other minorities under control (think Black Panthers in 60s). You can read about it here: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/sep/5/a-one-sided-look-at-guns/ In a lot of gun restriction laws were passed for pure ideological or racial discrimination reasons so no wonder that these laws never actually achieve officially stated goals of public safety. So how do you feel about supporting it? The problem with anti-gun rights argument is that we already tried almost every measure (short of total disarmament) people like you propose and there is nothing to show for it. NOTHING! This is why anti-gun-rights movement virtually does not exist as a grass roots phenomenon and pro-gun-rights movement does.
Volodymyr Butsky April 04, 2012 at 02:47 PM
@1? (continued) You support arbitrary and restrictive CA gun laws and oppose AZ ones. You stated that you are afraid of regular citizens with guns in AZ. But why? Did anyone ever threaten you with a gun? Is it a common practice in AZ to pull a gun at people if something does not go your way? You know that this simply does not happen... CA, having much more restrictions on my civil rights than almost any other state, did not manage to achieve any positive lead in violent crime rate compared to other states. It is somewhere in the middle of the pack. Why is that? It is simply because gun control laws do not work and what really affects crime rate is not the laws restricting law abiding citizens from carrying guns for protection, but poverty and opportunity to improve life. Also one more thing - majority of violent crimes committed with guns are done by people who by law cannot have guns, but it does not seem to prevent anything. To summarize: there is no any evidence at all that gun control laws produce any measurable effect on violent crime. There is clear positive correlation (it may or may not be causation) between relaxed concealed carry laws and reduction of violent crime. So what do you have to convince me to give up my civil rights and side with you in supporting CA arbitrary and capricious anti-gun laws?
Volodymyr Butsky April 04, 2012 at 03:54 PM
@1?: From what you described I can guess that in both cases a crime was committed. It is not like in AZ it is ok to shoot without really good reason in a middle of a city. Am I right? And you were traumatized by witnessing these crimes personally so now you believe that whole AZ is unsafe but CA is safe because of restrictions on gun rights. Did I capture it right? Here is a reality check: AZ is statistically safer than CA. Really... http://www.census.gov/statab/ranks/rank21.html Despite AZ being poorer than CA and having less natural resources to run their economy they managed to curb violent crimes better than CA. Could it be because they have more respect to peoples' civil rights? Just a thought... In general there is absolutely NO correlation between strict gun laws and violent crime rate. Gun control laws do not have any results to proof their usefulness. You still did not produce any valid argument for supporting restrictions on my civil rights. Without that it seems that your are supporting civil rights restrictions based on your emotions only.
Volodymyr Butsky April 04, 2012 at 05:55 PM
@1?: You right to be safe is as valuable, but there is no valid connection between your safety and my right to own a gun. I did not threaten you. Criminals did. And please don't use "statistical freaks" like Loughner to prove your point. For every Loughner there are thousands of cases where guns saved lives (there are so many of them, it is hard to pick one, but here is a sample for you http://thearmedcitizen.com/), but you consistently ignoring them preferring to over analyze freak accidents. So if you disarm law abiding citizens, a lot of these self defense cases would end with victims being killed or worse. You point about "1 is too many" here is misleading and invalid - disarming citizens will produce even more deaths. Other countries like UK or Australia tried an experiment of total disarmament and and their violent crime rate climbed up, not down! What makes you think that it would be different here? Please do not play with numbers I gave to you. These numbers are per 100,000 and not total numbers! So your argument about less people living in AZ simply makes no sense. I hope now you understand what these numbers mean and that my point is valid and yours is not. This discussion seems to be like so many others where anti-gun-rights people consistently ignoring facts and keep pressing their cause despite huge logical problems with their views. But good news is that more and more people can see that and think for themselves. This is why your point of view is loosing.
Volodymyr Butsky April 04, 2012 at 06:23 PM
@1? "Even one freak accident is one to many, human life is too valuable." Agreed. The question is how to prevent it without causing even more deaths. The suggested approach of limiting civil rights does not seem to work or at least so far nobody managed to produce ANY evidence that gun control works. So lets try to find a real solution instead perpetuating failed gun control measures.

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