12 years ago, Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine was released. It included a cartoon depicting America’s fear of pretty much everything down through history.
And my, haven’t times changed? This week Michael Dunn was found guilty of second degree murder in Florida, while he will face a retrial for the more serious charge of first degree murder, after jurors failed to reach a verdict.
The backstory is this: in November 2012 Dunn got into a confrontation with 17 year old Jordan Davis at a Jacksonville convenience store car park. Dunn had apparently asked Davis to turn down the rap music playing in his friends’ car, and words were exchanged. Dunn testified that he saw one of the teens in the car reach for something and believed it was a gun. His response? He went to his glove box and retrieved his own gun, firing ten shots at the car that Davis was in. The shots continued as his friends sped away, with Davis believed to be dying or already dead.
The trial has understandably brought back memories of the murder of Trayvon Martin in February of the same year, also in Florida. The similarities in the cases are numerous- in both cases the shooter had no legitimate fear for their safety (that is, they were not under any sort of physical attack) and both victims were unarmed teenage black males. While George Zimmerman may have walked away after his acquittal (only to be re-arrested mere weeks later for a Domestic Battery incident), Michael Dunn is expected to serve 60 years hard time.
Both killings have brought Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” into the international sphere for debate. The law reflects the idea that a person has no duty to retreat in situations whereby they fear for their safety. In practice this means that, should someone break into your home in the dead of night, you shouldn’t have to run away. You shouldn’t have to, but when did common sense stop prevailing? We teach our children that “walking away” is the best way to deal with a playground fight. We say never put up a fight if you’re being mugged- that your iPhone is always worth less than your life. When did these stop being such good ideas in Florida?
The issues of race played an undeniable part in both crimes- while it’s possible the incidents could have taken place had Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis been white, it’s probable that their skin colour caused both assailants to act faster and with less hesitation. In neither situation was the perpetrator in any immediate physical danger, but perceived possible danger. It was quite literally a case of “shoot now, ask questions later”.
Given that we grew up in a country where terrorist attacks were almost daily occurrence only a few miles up the road for the better part of 28 years, one would think we might share in the USA’s desire for pre-emptive security measures. But we don’t. We don’t even arm our on-the-beat police force. This is not to say we don’t have gun crime; of course we do. But your average guy on the street is very unlikely to own a firearm, and it is certainly dubious that he will have one on his person. Is it our neutrality? Many adult Americans grew up during the Vietnam War (and may have even fought in it). Perhaps this readiness to bear arms for their country has led to an overzealous reliance on “protecting” them and theirs with gunfire.
Whatever the cause, which we can only speculate on, something most certainly has to give. America has too many gun-related tragedies every year, it’s time people grew a spine and put down their guns.