A senior citizen shoots a federal agent dead in broad daylight in the parking lot of a post office a few blocks from my home in the suburbs. He shot the guy in the head as the agent's 12-year-old daughter watched. Her older sister turned 15 today. Their mom gave a tearful press conference yesterday about losing the love of her life.
The manhunt? Off the hinges. There were cops from every conceivable jurisdiction -- hundreds of them -- descending on this area, parked on every corner and stopping car after car to ask questions and hand out flyers. Everyone around here assumed it was some sort of hit -- something related to the federal agent's job. Instead? Turns out to be just another random shooting by a "law abiding gun owner."
MIRAMAR - A police report says today that U.S. border protection agent Donald Pettit died as the result of a road rage incident.
The report said both Pettit and James Patrick Wonder, the man charged with his murder, exchanged obscene gestures with each other as they drove along Dykes Road Tuesday morning.
The report said Wonder, 65, pulled into the Pembroke Pines post office first from Dykes Road. It said Pettit then pulled into the post office parking lot from Pines Boulevard.
There, they argued some more, Wonder pulled a gun from his waistband, removed the safety and shot Pettit in the head, the report said.
As for Wonder? Neighbors say he was a nice guy; quiet ... no temper. No signs that he would become a wanted murderer. He got caught after attending a dialysis appointment at a nearby mall.
This, I'm afraid, is what comes of the nexus between readily available guns, and the common stresses of suburban life -- like road rage. Without the gun, this is at worst a fist fight in the parking lot. Probably not even that, since the assailant is a 65-year-old man with a bad kidney, and the victim was a fit federal agent. Think Wonder would have messed with him unarmed?
I got more response to this "Face Off" column about the Second Amendment and the Roberts Court's D.C. v. Heller decision than any column I've written for the South Florida Times. Gun lovers are filling my email with long, long, long soliloquies about how wonderful guns are, how they shouldn't be "taken away" or "denied" to "law abiding gun owners" and even a couple of emails inviting me to grab a pistol and come to the shooting range so that I, too, can fall in love with the handgun. I wouldn't have enough time to respond to them all. Too much to do. So let me respond to all the Second Amendment enthusiasts collectively.
First: the Supreme Court in the Heller case sided with you. The individual right to bear arms is now the law of the land, and not in dispute, including by me.
Second: Nowhere in my column did I argue that the men in the black helicopters (or anyone for that matter) should come and confiscate your guns. Even the D.C. gun ban included no such confiscation order. No men in black. No helicopters rousting District residents and snatching away their beloved pistolas. One more time, just to close this matter out: no one from the government is coming to take your guns away, and I can't think of anyone who has ever argued that they should. I certainly haven't. What I have argued is that after Heller, the NRA can no longer use the specter of confiscation to scare up votes for the GOP.
Third: the SUPCO ruling also affirmed the constitutionality of common sense gun laws enacted by the people, through their local and state governments. Indeed, liberal carry laws are appropriate for some states (low crime, rural states like Vermont and Oregon have liberal carry laws, and few homicides) but not for others, where violent crime is making life a living hell for citizens and law enforcement alike. The D.C. handgun sales ban, whether you agreed with it or not, was passed by representatives of the people of the District. It was an attempt to deal with soaring violent crime. If Washington D.C. wants to have different gun laws than Vermont or Colorado, where I grew up, and where hunting is a major, popular pastime (and where hunters are some of the best proponents of environmental protection) I say more power to them. States should have the right to do what's best for them. If you want to walk around with a gun on your hip because that makes you happy, move to a state where you can do so.
It's time for America to come to grips with the violence in our society, with a combination of addressing the social ills and economic deprivation that feed criminality, and well enforced laws, including gun laws. The Heller ruling clears the way for us to do just that.
So please, no more emails warning me not to try and take your guns away. Believe me, I'm not coming anywhere near you or your guns. You can trust me on that.
UPDATE: One thing I have noticed from the responses I've received from gun enthusiasts, is that there is a kind of obsessive vibe to the love of guns. People who consider themselves to be Second Amendment guardians are really, really into their firearms, and rather paranoid about a fictional, imminent government attack that they seem to believe will lead to the confiscation of their guns. It's actually kind of creepy...
Talk about the courts inventing new rights never before seen in the Constitution ... turns out each of us has the right to a bazooka..!
The truly insane Wayne LaPierre was on "Hardball" tonight confirming press accounts about his next plan, post D.C. v. Heller: they're going to start suing other cities to take down their gun restriction laws. And the first case? The NRA will soon, perhaps even starting tomorrow, seek to "rearm Chicago," and overturn a San Francisco law banning people living in public housing projects from owning firearms. Say the NRA's ironically named chief lobbyist, Chris Cox:
"When the Supreme Court says 'all Americans,' it includes those who aren't fortunate enough to afford a 24/7 security detail like Barack Obama," Cox said, working in a dig at the Democratic nominee. Obama's campaign today backed away from a previous statement, made last year by an aide, that Obama supported D.C.'s ban.
Now, I don't know how many projects Chris has been to, but let's assume San Francisco's are much like many in other cities, including here in South Florida -- sometimes calm, if hard-scrabble, but too often run down and dangerous. So raise your hand if you think it's a good idea to bring more guns into, say, Dunbar Village , where the teens who assaulted a young mother and her son last year could theoretically have found a gun to steal, along with that family's innocence. [And before the gun nuts start braying that had the mother in Dunbar had a gun, she could have shot her assailants, I cede the point. However, keep in mind that the teens who attacked her lured her outside, leaving no way for her to get her hands on a gun. Perhaps they'd prefer that her 12-year-old son grabbed the gun, and maybe shot ... whom? Statistics suggest his only victim would have been himself or his mom.]
And surely LaPierre and company would like to see more states pass laws like Florida's "castle doctrine," which lets members of the "well armed militia" that now apparently includes us all, shoot first and ask questions later (gun nuts seem to love the idea of "good citizens shooting the bad guys dead, and not waiting around for the cops," though most of them are at best, armchair cowboys, and most "good citizens" don't have the training that police do ... hence ... the fact that they're the police...) Maybe, now that we're all living in Wayne's world, we could all get guns and go back to settling our disputes like they did in the Wild West. Maybe crazy Zell Miller has gotten his wish, and we now live in a time when you can challenge a man to a duel... Or perhaps we could all buy rocket launchers or tommy guns and parade them in the streets. That'd show the criminals! Wouldn't it? And how should law enforcement react to the notion that the NRA would like to see a gun in every American home, car, workplace and even church? Sure makes traffic stops or responses to domestic incidents more "interesting..."
Truly, there will be blood on the hands of five Supreme Court justices, the NRA and their gun nut supporters, if, as in the case of the late assault weapons ban, their advocacy puts more guns, and more death, on the streets.
And make no mistake, now that the gun lobbyists have found five jurists filled with enough NRA Kool-Aid to turn the entire nation into a militia, you'd better believe they're looking to strip away the "well regulated" part of the Late, Great, United States Constitution, next... (may it rest in peace.)
Who dies in greater numbers from firearms, police in the line of duty or preschoolers?
The answer — contained in a searing new report by the Children's Defense Fund — is surprising and disturbing. In 2005, the most recent year for which data are available, guns killed 69 preschoolers, compared with 53 law enforcement officers.
That's just one of the alarming facts in the Washington-based child advocacy group's "Protect Children, Not Guns" report. Among the others:
• Since 1979, gun violence has taken the lives of 104,419 children and teens.
• A black male has a one-in-72 chance of being killed by a firearm before age 30; a while male has a one-in-344 chance.
• While black children are more likely to be victims of firearm homicides, whites are more likely to use a gun to commit suicide. Eight times as many white kids committed suicide by gun as blacks.
The danger posed by guns to America's youth is on the rise. In 2005, 3,006 children and teens died from firearms, compared with 2,825 in 2004. That's the first increase in gun deaths among children since 1994 and since the longstanding assault weapons ban expired in 2004.
The children lost to guns in 2005 would fill 120 public school classrooms. Despite the bloodshed, the issue of gun safety has not become a focal point in the 2008 presidential race. And hardly anyone running for office in Georgia — where it becomes legal next month for permit-holders to carry firearms in restaurants and on MARTA — mentions guns except to eagerly note that they own them.
The silence speaks to the sway of a gun lobby that fights any regulation, even modest laws designed to keep weapons away from children. And that silence is deadly, contributing to the ease with which guns are finding their way into the hands of kids and teens, with fatal consequences.
"Imagine a tragedy like the Virginia Tech shooting occurring every four days, or a Northern Illinois shooting happening every 15 hours," said Children's Defense Fund president and founder Marian Wright Edelman. Last year's Virginia Tech massacre left 32 people dead, while five students died when a gunman opened fire at Northern Illinois University in February. ...
... Opponents of gun laws argue that it's America's culture of violence that necessitates the need for unfettered access to firearms. They argue that widespread gun ownership and quick access to firearms keeps communities safe and violence at bay.
If that's true, why does the United States lead the developed world in gun deaths? Why do more 10- to 19-year-olds in America die from gunshot wounds than any other cause except car accidents?
If guns equal safety, shouldn't the U.S. have fewer casualties and injuries, since our society is so well-armed? That's a calculus problem that the gun lobby refuses to tackle, because it fears the answer: More guns on the streets doesn't lead to greater safety. It leads only to more gun violence.
A 2002 study on firearm deaths by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that children ages 5 to 14 died at higher rates in states with more guns. The study found that children in the five states with the highest levels of gun ownership — Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia — were 16 times more likely to die from unintentional firearm injury, seven times more likely to die from firearm suicide and three times more likely to die from firearm homicide than children in the five states with the lowest levels of ownership, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Delaware.
Consider, too, that while 11,344 Americans were murdered with a firearm in 2004, Australia suffered only 56 gun homicides and England and Wales had 73.
I really like Mike Huckabee, which is why stories like this one are so disconcerting:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican Mike Huckabee responded to an offstage noise during his speech to the National Rifle Association by suggesting it was Barack Obama diving to the floor because someone had aimed a gun at him.
Hearing a loud noise and interrupting his speech, Huckabee said: "That was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair. He's getting ready to speak and somebody aimed a gun at him and he — he dove for the floor."
There were only a few murmurs in the crowd after the remark.
Here's the video:
And he just HAD to wrap by saying that "the future of our democracy depends on people who understand that policy cannot act in a moral vacuum."
I'm assuming Reverend Huckabee, who remains an ordained minister, I must remind folks, will clarify his remarks, and apologize. He seems like too good of a guy to really mean what this seems to mean. It's just way too RFK circa 1968, Huck. Not cute.