Is it possible that the slaughter of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, has set the bar of outrage so high that the gunning down of a mere five people in Santa Monica, California, doesn’t even make the front page? Are the voices of reason in the gun debate so exhausted that they can barely whisper in protest when four children in North Texas are killed in accidental shootings in less than a month?
Five weeks after signing a bill authorizing funds for the confiscation of 20,000 illegal weapons in California, Governor Jerry Brown was unable to find room on his website for so much as an expression of sympathy for the Santa Monica victims and their families. There is a press release proclaiming June as “Great Outdoors Month,” and another hailing the closing of a nuclear power plant, but not a word about the latest mass killing.
Down in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry is busy romancing Connecticut gun manufacturers who are peeved at that state’s new gun laws. Perry’s official website trumpets the signing of a law easing restrictions on service dogs, and reprints the governor’s speech honoring four firefighters killed in Houston, but there is no mention of Emilee Bates. Who is she? Just a 13-year-old girl killed on her birthday by her 19-year-old stepbrother, who shot her in the stomach with an AK-47 assault rifle. According to a KXAS broadcast, Austin McCord “ejected two ‘dummy’rounds from the AK-47, but he had forgotten about other live rounds in the magazine.”
The station’s account included that saddest of all refrains: “Officials said that the incident was considered an accident and no charges would be filed.” No charges, just a young girl, a life not lived and a lifetime of regret for young Mr. McCord.
The Texas shooting was not unlike the dreadful case of Palm Coast’s William Merrill. In early 2012, Merrill decided to take a day off from work to play with some of his many his guns, and concluded his playtime by fatally shooting his wife Stefanie with an AK-47 as she was bathing the couple’s three-year-old daughter. Unlike McCord, Merrill, a two-time felon, was prosecuted and received a 25-year prison sentence.
“I take full responsibility for this tragedy that has happened,” Merrill said at his sentencing, executing the oratorical dodge favored by those who really don’t take any responsibility at all. Tornadoes “happen”; solar eclipses “happen.” Fatal shootings don’t “happen”—a person points a gun, pulls the trigger, and, in Merrill’s case two small children are left without a mother.
It’s not surprising that the NRA’s victory in the gun control debate has stilled the voices of sanity. After all, it’s not easy to sustain a lobbying effort in the face of such rank cowardice among those we supposedly elect to serve our interests. Meanwhile, every day, in cities and towns across the country, people die by firearm—nearly 5,000 just in the four months after Newtown, according to an exhaustive study by Slate and an activist group called @GunDeaths.
But even well before Newtown, the persistent failure of our Congress to do anything to halt this carnage has done more than simply maintain an unacceptable status-quo. It has elevated the most inflammatory rhetoric of organizations like the NRA and Gun Owners of America into the mainstream conversation. The NRA used to be a gun-safety group. Now it tells us we need to be armed in order to fight our own government. The GOA and its mouthpiece Larry Pratt used to be viewed as out on the fringe. Now, referring to Newtown, Pratt can say, “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands,” and gun owners pay attention. More seriously, they are not hearing words of restraint from within their own ranks.
I recall doing an interview years ago with a gun-rights advocate on the subject of gun ownership and personal responsibility. He firmly believed that more guns in a community made it safer, not more dangerous. If the bad guys think that everyone has a gun, he reasoned, they’ll go elsewhere to commit their crimes.
But he said something else that now seems so quaint, especially in our state with its “stand-your-ground” ethos. Owning and carrying a gun is an awesome responsibility, said this man. Owning a firearm, he said, obligates you to walk away from an argument or an insult. The burden is on the gun owner not to allow a provocation to spiral into a fatality.
That’s why laws allowing students to carry a gun on campus are so wrongheaded. In places where testosterone, beer and bluster are in ample supply, a gun can quickly turn a fistfight or even a perceived threat into a lifelong tragedy.
Yet, somewhere between the macho braying of Gov. Perry and Wayne LaPierre and the fervent pleading for common sense from people like Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, the responsibilities of gun ownership have been obscured. And we have Exhibit A right here in our backyard.
No one can know what was going through the mind of Flagler Beach’s Paul Miller when, 10 months before the Newtown killings, he pumped five shots into his inebriated neighbor Dana Mulhall. But we do know what he said to the 911 dispatcher: “I just shot the son of a bitch. I shot his fucking ass.” And we do know what he said in court when asked why he came back out of his house to confront Mulhall, whom he said he feared: “He told me he had a gun. He’s going to kill me.”
Mulhall, though apparently surly and threatening, did not have a gun. Paul Miller did, and now Mulhall is dead and Miller will spend what’s left of his life in a prison cell. Is it not likely that gun-owner Miller had absorbed the “stand-your-ground” rhetoric that hangs over Florida like a late-afternoon thunderstorm? Had anyone ever told him about that awesome responsibility—the responsibility to walk away, lock the door and call the police? We’ll never know.
And, of course, we have yet to hear from George Zimmerman who, while not invoking stand your ground, left his vehicle, carrying a gun, to pursue an unarmed youth.
What we do know is that we as a nation have done worse than nothing to combat gun violence–we have emboldened the zealots.
Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. He previously wrote about the racial overtones of the George Zimmerman trial. Reach him by email here.
We need a fair and balanced message about those who use guns to protect their homes and their lives and their family from forced break in, etc. Criminals will always be able to get guns. Check out “Guns Save Lives” on Facebook. Numerous articles that the newspapers aren’t telling anyone about!
I could not agree more!
Sounds a bit like the current administration, Steve.
The NRA plays on people’s unfounded fears and greases the slippery slope nonsense to protect gun manufacturers. True sportsman know better and we as a nation need to insist that our representatives pass common sense laws or we need to throw them out of office.
More gun control = more crime. The more gun free zones posted, the more these monsters will attack. Every city in the US with strict gun control has higher violent crime rates than ones that do not.
Violence is the problem. The fact is most of it stems from liberal policies that have destroyed our cities. Generations of people living off the government and encouraged to kill (abort) at a young age …. up to 24 weeks old or such. Pay no attention to the One million plus murdered but respect the sanctity of life. This is the liberal message.
You are evil hypocrites. The whole lot of you.
You’re deluding yourself and others if you think the NRA has that much control or authority over the mainstream (leftist) media. And as far a Gov. Moonbeam, who can guess what and why he posts information on his website?
But you are right about one important point. There must be more to owning a gun than just buying one. There is tremendous responsibility involved, not unlike owning and driving a car. The NRA and all gun owners need to understand this critical point.
There are lots of ideas on how to accomplish this but at what cost to our constitutional rights and privacy? Banning guns is not the solution but there needs to be a reasonable discussion of the issues. But when the left makes outlandish statements and twists the truth and the facts to push their agenda, it’s hard not to take an equally strong but opposing position.
I absolutely agree with the gun-rights advocate you interviewed about responsibility and assumed burdens. I do believe most gun owners are like this. Actually, I’m sure they are, otherwise there would be so many more shootings, accidental or purposeful. Aren’t there something like 300 million guns in private hands?
And as far as our own Paul Miller, he broke the law and took a life. It was obvious that he did not act in self-defense. He got what he deserved and will spend the rest of his life in prison. Unfortunately, a valued life was lost. Hopefully, Miller’s exceptionally poor example of gun-ownership is brought to everyone’s attention and lessons of appropriate behavior will be learned. Dana deserves that honor, at the least.
However, simply owning a gun does not automatically make you a potential criminal. Instead, let’s have a conversation about the kinds of people who use guns in crimes. That’s where we need to begin.
Sherry Epley says
A truly excellent article! When our elected (NON) representatives in Congress and state houses vote as directed by the NRA and AGAINST ANY gun safety law. . . against the will of the majority of our citizens, we need to face the fact that we are no longer a democracy. So, in essense, (legally) bribed politicans are controlling Congress and state legislatures.
We can rise up and vote OUT those who do not represent us. . . and put at least a measure of democracy back in our government. The question is. . . will we put forth the effort to vote, or will we continue to allow ourselves to be controlled like fools.
UMMM we are not and never where meant to be a democracy.
Really? I fail to understand how you as a responsible journalist can type a label to the NRA organization as mercenary. To me your article should blame the media for not maintaining these horrific events in the front pages.
Secondly, your article, although fairly well written, bounces from point to point like a 12 gauge scattergun. It seems to me that your focus would be more effective if it concentrated on one point rather than encompassing the gun control gambit.
And thirdly, have we as a society that has permitted gun ownership really “emboldened the zealots”? I believe the mentality of a a few skewed individuals who commit these horrific killings (regardless of the number of victims) would occur if not with guns then with any multitude of objects.
I have a solution. Let’s ban all guns, all pointy objects and all heavy items. Heck if if isn’t a nerf ball, let’s ban it.
john Doesky says
Typical leftist screed demonizing fellow Americans who simply want to exercise their 2A rights.
Biff Sarin says
Couldn’t agree more! Their idea of “Common Sense” gun control is to take guns from the hands of every law abiding gun owner so only criminals will have guns. That’s just “common sense” in their view.
amazing how the editor of this article has already concluded that trayvon was also innocent and unarmed…..
when using your arms and hands as violent weapons—you are “armed”….trayvon—was armed….unfortunately for him so was zimmerman
Blah, blah, blah. Your tears are as sweet as honey. We’re not giving up our guns. Another angry little liberal who’s President got a beatdown from the NRA. Hey Flagler, you see what’s happening in Colorado? Two politicians are being fired for the views that you epsouse. More to follow. Deal with that.
Just for the record violent crime is going down as gun ownership is going up. So, if you want congress to act, then remove the existing restrictions.
Sherry Epley says
According to Wikipedia, the possible reasons for reduced crime rate have NOTHING to do with increased gun ownership in the USA:
Since the 1990s, however, crime in the United States has declined steeply. Several theories have been proposed to explain this decline:
1.The number of police officers increased considerably in the 1990s.
2.The prison population has been expanded since the mid-1970s.
3.Starting in the mid-1980s, the crack cocaine market grew rapidly before declining again a decade later. Some authors have pointed towards the link between violent crimes and crack use.
4.One hypothesis suggests a causal link between legalized abortion and the drop in crime during the 1990s.
5.Changing demographics of an aging population has been cited for the drop in overall crime.
6.Another hypothesis suggests reduced lead exposure as the cause; Scholar Mark A.R. Kleiman writes: “Given the decrease in lead exposure among children since the 1980s and the estimated effects of lead on crime, reduced lead exposure could easily explain a very large proportion—certainly more than half—of the crime decrease of the 1994-2004 period. A careful statistical study relating local changes in lead exposure to local crime rates estimates the fraction of the crime decline due to lead reduction as greater than 90 percent.
7.Three Strikes You’re Out Laws were suggested during the 1992 election cycle and implemented immediately following.