Mounting deaths fail to deter gun law supporters
CHICAGO THE statistics are staggering, the stories heartbreaking, yet there is little chance that any amount of bloodshed will lead to stiffer gun controls in the United States in the foreseeable future.
“It’s not something that any politician thinks is winnable,” said Kristin Goss, a politics professor at Duke University and author of “Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America.” Five years after the worst school shooting in US history left 32 people dead at Virginia Tech, another high profile slaying has raised fears that new self-defence laws allow armed vigilantes to kill with impunity.
Florida authorities initially refused to charge a neighbourhood watch volunteer for killing a black teenager even though a 911 operator instructed George Zimmerman not to follow the boy and instead to wait for police, after he first called to report a guy “up to no good.” That’s because Florida like 24 other US states has a “Stand Your Ground” law that grants immunity from prosecution if people use deadly force because they felt threatened.
Zimmerman said Trayvon Martin, 17, attacked him and under Florida law, he had no duty to attempt to safely retreat before firing his gun.
The US constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, and individual states can regulate the right. The Trayvon Martin case sparked protests across the country after Martin’s family, lawyers and civil rights leaders alleged the hoodie-wearing teen who was on his way home after buying iced tea and a pack of Skittles was a victim of racial profiling.
It also highlighted the dramatic weakening of gun controls, as well as the role of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a once little-known conservative think-tank that drafted Stand Your Ground and other gun rights law and pushed them through state legislatures.
Statistics on gun victims 11,500 homicides, 554 accidental deaths and 45,000 non-fatal assaults in 2009 are brushed aside with the adages “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and “bad guys can’t be the only ones packing heat.” “What actually happened?” “The NRA’s greatest success has been divorcing not just their rhetoric but their legislative agenda from the real world,” said Josh Sugarmann, director of the Violence Policy Centre, which advocates for gun control.
Stand Your Ground laws that have granted immunity to people who shot robbers after chasing them for several blocks and drug dealers who killed rival gang members are relatively new, as is the pervasiveness of guns, which can now be brought even into churches, schools and bars in many states. Illinois is the only US state that still bans concealed weapons, down from 19 in 1981.