Monday, March 14, 2005

Courthouse Shootings

I imagine by now all of my gentle readers have heard about the courthouse shootings in Georgia. A few thoughts occur to me in regard to this incident.

On The Connection on NPR on Friday, during a discussion about the unfolding news coming out of Atlanta, one of the two guests went on at length about how bad things like witness intimidation and threatening judges had gotten, citing this incident as well as the recent incident where a Federal judge's husband and child were murdered to intimidate her. He questioned whether the system could work with this short of thing going on.

Then, the other guest said exactly what I was thinking: "This isn't new. Witness intimidation goes on all the time. It's only now that it is leaving the inner cities and coming to white areas that all of a sudden it's a big problem." Much like school violence wasn't news or the subject of real discussion until after a bunch of white kids died in suburbia instead of blacks dying in the inner cities, these sorts of problems with the justice system haven't been news or the subject of real discussions until now, when it happens outside the inner city. The perpetrator, of course, was an African-American, but the important thing is that the victims were white. That's when an issue really becomes important, it seems.

So now, of course, as the guest last night pointed out, politicians are going to run around like chickens with their heads cut off spending millions and millions to add to courthouse security without ever looking at or dealing with the systemic problems of violence within the system. Just as metal detectors in the doors of high schools do nothing to address what is happening within schools to make kids want to shoot their classmates, adding security to courthouses won't change the culture of fear and violence that has grown up around our justice system.

And don't tell me that white people living in suburbia don't know that this is going on in the inner cities. My mother, who lived her whole life in a rich white suburb of Dayton, Ohio until moving to a rich white suburb of Los Angeles a few years ago, knows. She got called for jury duty recently in Compton and she lied to get out of jury duty because she was afraid that the defendant was "in a gang or something" and that if she was on the jury she might "get shot." White people know. They just don't care until it affects them.

I'm just sayin'.

Also, I think this incident shows the fallacy in the idea of gun ownership for self-defense. Now, I'm not talking about rights or gun control here... I don't like guns, but as a supporter of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, I have to allow that the owning weapons, including guns, is a right in this country. So, I'm not talking about the politics of gun ownership, but rather I'm talking about the reality in practical terms.

A friend of mine once related this story: A guy in a martial arts class thinks he has gotten better than his master. So, the guy challenges the master to fight him. The master agrees and immediately hits the guy. The guy says, "Hey! I wasn't ready!" The master, walking away, says, "It's mostly about being ready."

And therein lies the problem. Even in a society where everyone has a gun, most people are not going to be ready to use their gun when the time comes. Many just don't have the stomach for it, even if they think they do, and will never use their weapon no matter the provocation. And many people who would use their weapon if they had time to think and prepare themselves mentally for it will not use it when suddenly surprised by a situation they did not anticipate. Even people trained to defend themselves in dangerous jobs, like Sheriff's Deputies and Immigration Agents, just can't keep themselves at that high level of readiness all the time.

The fact is, that this guy could overpower a Deputy, take her gun, and go on a shooting spree in a place where there are lots of armed officers isn't that surprising to me. The fact is that one determined individual, ready and willing to use his or her weapon, will almost always be able to draw and shoot an unsuspecting person before the that person can realize what is happening and react. Reacting to a sudden unarmed attack takes exceptional awareness and reflexes. But with guns, everything happens quicker. By the time you realize that you're under attack and go for your gun, it's already over. You're dead.

As such, I don't really think much of the idea of "defending yourself" by carrying a gun. When everyone has a gun, the best you can hope for is a sort of mutually-assured destruction, such that if someone shoots you, they can be reasonably sure that other people will immediately shoot them. Unfortunately, given the way people react in such situations, even in a society with 100% of citizens carrying guns, in most situations a person could still go into a restaurant or a store, blow someone away, and leave without being molested. That's just how it is, guns or no guns. Most of us aren't predators and aren't ready to commit the ultimate act of violence on a moment's notice, and, as we know, "It's mostly about being ready."


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