Remember the CEO of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, taking the stage for a much anticipated speech shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown ? Wagging his head, as if to say “Do you suckers really believe this crap I am feeding you ?”, the venerable man rejoiced the world with the announcement that “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun”. The end. Curtain. Applause.
So here we have an equation, introducing two guys -one good, one bad- with two guns, one each, that readily takes the assumption that the good guy will shoot the bad guy such that all will be fine and everybody will live happily for ever after. That is how things work out in the world of Wayne La Pierre.
Solid as it may sound, there are however a few small issues with the statement which I’d like to highlight upfront.
For starters, how would it not be that the bad guy shoots the good guy first, since he is notoriously bad and that’s what bad guys do, shoot people, so presumably they are better at it than the good guy who only carries a weapon to shoot ducks, preferably sitting, right ? So I think Wayne should have added in at least one more good guy, on standby, just in case the first one meets his maker before the bad guy does. And now that I come to think of it: maybe add just one more, for full redundancy and even more increased weapon sales.
Second, it is not clear who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. I think the trouble started with Winnetou, when he befriended Old Shatterhand. Before him, everything was crystal clear: Indians were bad and cowboys were good. It had of course to be a German to throw that entire concept overboard and create the mess we are in now, where it has become a matter of survival to carry a gun, since you cannot distinguish the goodies from the baddies anymore (more head-wagging on the stage …).
Last but not least, the equation assumes that both the bad guy and the good guy have a gun, for that’s what makes the equation work. Yet, silly me, I couldn’t help but wondering “What if the bad guy didn’t have a gun ?” Highly irrelevant as it may be in the Disneyworld of the NRA, populated with nothing but responsible gun-owners, I still like to think it bears some relevance to the real world.
No lack of examples, when you look around, so let’s just pick the first random one that comes along.
shot then 17-year old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida, with one shot through the heart and got acquitted through a non-guilty verdict by a jury of six women last Saturday night because, in NRA-speak, good guy George Zimmerman had shot bad guy Trayvon Martin. Never mind the “bad guy” didn’t have a gun to start with and so had fairly little chance to stand his ground.
There is very little value in arguing that the jury made the wrong decision, for they probably didn’t: from all accounts I have read, the Prosecution has never been able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted in violation of the applicable laws in Florida , so acquitting was probably the only right thing they could do to stay in line with the law. Note to the reader: we are talking about law. We are NOT talking about justice. Seems that sometimes there’s a Grand Canyon separating those two, as in this case.
There is all the more value though in the statement that I keep repeating again and again to whoever is interested: “These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do / One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you” (Nancy Sinatra). If there is any other use in a weapon than to kill, I will be glad to learn it. If there is any sanity in a law that allows the use of a weapon, and by extension justified homicide, when there is only so much as a perceived threat, I will equally be glad to learn it.
I don’t know about you, but the first thing I always do when I go out to mug people or raid their homes is to buy Skittles and ice-tea, such that I am sure that my hands will be fully tied in case it comes to a fight. And when it rains, I put on my hoodie, for I have no free hands to carry an umbrella because of those Skittles and that ice-tea. These foolproof signs of up-to-no-good behavior were immediately detected by The Retreat neighborhood watch co-ordinator George Zimmerman, when he saw Trayvon Martin walking by that evening on his way to the house of his father’s fiancee in that same gated community as where Zimmerman lived. Zimmerman, clearly a no-nonsense man, wasted no time: he called the police to inform them there was a suspect individual lurking around the neighbourhood. The police told him they would be on their way and to stay in his car, to stay where he was. When they arrived on the scene, Martin was dead on the grass, killed by a single shot.
I don’t know George Zimmerman and I don’t even want to speculate on what was on his mind when, after that call, he stepped out of his car and started to follow Martin. Maybe he was genuinely concerned about the safety in the neighbourhood, maybe he was chasing his own ghosts, probably we will never really know. Yet the gun makes all the difference, the gun is what makes the line between what is a “good guy” and what is a “bad guy” blur or simply erases it entirely.
Zimmerman could have called the police and heeded their advice to stay put in his car till the officers would arrive. Yet, he decided otherwise and stepped out of his car to follow Martin. Would he have done so had he not been carrying a gun on him ? Maybe still so, but chances would have been greatly diminished AND the situation would have been totally different. That gun gave Zimmerman the feeling that he was able to handle the law by himself, which in itself is the most law-violating feeling there is. That gun in his pocket left George the idea that, when push came to shove, he could kill his way out of trouble. So when he stepped out of his car, the boots started to walk, and sure enough, they walked all over Trayvon Martin. A fight. One shot. Skittles, a bottle of ice-tea and a dead body scattered all over the grass, because somebody assumed, based primarily on what he was wearing (and possibly his skin colour), that this kid was up to no good and acted upon his assumption, empowered by the presence of a gun.
Not any fair law system will condemn a priori self-defense against a violent attack. There’s value in every life, so you should be allowed to defend yours when it is in danger. Yet, any fair system should also take into account the proportionality of that defense versus the attack. George Zimmerman, a 1.73m 91 kg male, less tall than Martin but outweighing him by 20 kg, maybe had that statement of LaPierre in mind when he stepped out of his car and set the boots in motion. He may or may not have considered that the “bad guy” he was following possibly did not carry a gun himself. Fact is: Trayvon Martin did not carry a gun but he was shot by the only gun in the game: the one in the hands of the “good guy”. For that’s what guns do: they kill, no matter in which hands, no matter for what consideration and therefore guns should have no place in any society that wants to be named “civilised”. For they not only blur the distinction between the good and the bad, they blur our entire mind by imposing on it a false sense of security and “can do, can handle”. In the Zimmerman case, there is not a single reason one can name why that fight that apparently ensued should have taken place. All possibilities to avoid it were readily available, yet that gun gave somebody the courage to rise beyond himself and decided that “justice” had no use for waiting. Action is the name of the game. BANG ! One shot. Game over. Trayvon killed; justice killed; proportionality and rationality: all killed.
The trial is history. Zimmerman walks free, but will never be free for a long time to come. For it is to be assumed that there are a few people out there now that, like Zimmerman, might make “assumptions” as to why he did what he did and might feel empowered by the little helper in their pocket to also step out of their car. Since half the world is now looking at Zimmerman as the “bad guy”, will that then make those people the “good guys” ?
What’s it gonna be, Wayne ? … Wayne ???