Saturday, December 1, 2012

Guns Do Kill People

Christopher W. Howard of Bloomington, Minnesota, had a letter in today's Star Tribune that set me off. The only good thing about it was that it was short.

Double standard when it comes to shootings

If a police officer says that he or she was afraid at the time that an unarmed individual on the street is shot numerous times, that's often considered justifiable homicide. But a Little Falls retiree alone on Thanksgiving who blasts away at two burglars rushing through his home now sits in jail charged with second-degree murder in their deaths. This is wrong, even though it's unfortunate that the would-be burglars are dead.
You'd better believe I have a double standard for the behavior of police and citizens, Mr. Howard. I don't want citizens trying to behave like police the rest of the time, either. That's what we call vigilantism.

That said, if a cop shot an unarmed person the way the Little Falls shooter Byron Smith did, and confessed to it the way Smith did, that cop would be prosecuted also. According to his own words, Smith had wounded both burglars enough to completely disable them. He then purposely shot to kill them, in one case multiple times, including what he called a "clean kill shot" into the young woman's brain. He also said he shot her the second time because she laughed at him.

If a cop confessed like that, he would be charged with murder just as Smith has been. But cops don't confess in this way -- they claim they saw a gun, if nothing else.

But the larger issue is whether citizens who are not in their homes have the right to "stand their ground" without question. As in the Trayvon Martin case, and the more recent Jordan Davis killing (where some black boys in a parked car didn't turn down their loud music when a white man asked them to), the presence of armed people leads to more deaths than would have happened if they weren't armed.

Research shows that those with a gun are more likely to think others are armed, too, so they will always feel threatened. And obviously, assumptions about the dangers of black young men play into this paranoia. Melissa Harris-Perry has more to say about that.

Will the shooter in the case of a murdered North Carolina couple claim he felt threatened by them?  Where does it stop?

Prosecutors have discretion in whether to charge shooters or not, depending on the circumstances. As former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said the other day on MPR, they also have the option of taking a case to Grand Jury, which doesn't require the defendant to pay for a lawyer, to see if a panel of fellow citizens thought a shooting was reasonable.

Allowing lethal gun use at any time and in any place a person says, post hoc, that he felt threatened is bad policy. Worst of all, it gives shooters a strong incentive to make sure their victims are dead so that they can't talk back.


troutbirder said...

Good points. I agree completely...

Ms Sparrow said...

Granted, they were a pair of stinky kids who seemed to be tormenting the man with multiple break-ins and thefts, but they should have been hauled to jail. The fact that the man seemed to take pleasure in killing them is just disgusting!