Shoot First, America.

Other than as an infallible acid test for how rational the person you’re talking to is, there’s very little to be gained arguing America’s gun possession laws. It’s like abortion. Minds are made up. Those of us who perceive little or no mortal danger in our daily modern mostly urban lives can’t fathom the need to own one. Much less can we understand the need/desire to acquire a small arsenal. So … we and look on the crowd arguing for the need/right to carry, then conceal and lately “Stand Your Ground” (the so-called “expanded Castle Doctrine”) as precisely the kind of people — addled by bizarre paranoias — that should not be packing heat as they order their triple macchiatos and/or stroll the aisles of Home Depot.

A comprehensive psychological profile, administered to gun license applicants, would do wonders for denying permits to the personalities who need guns way too much for reasons that have nothing to do with “personal safety”.

In the past two weeks we’ve had two more incidents of outrageous gun play by (very likely) damaged characters acting as guardians of our safety. First, Master Sgt. Robert Bales in Afghanistan, accused of the mass murder of 16 civilians, including nine sleeping children, and now George Zimmerman the, and I quote, “self-appointed” citizen watch guard who pretty obviously stalked an unarmed black teenager, engaged him in a confrontation and shot him dead … all in, as I say, his personally appointed role as guardian of a … wait for it … gated Florida community.

Far from being beside the point, the mental instability of both Bales and Zimmerman is highly germane to whatever conversation you might care to have. Bales was obviously in a war zone. But the truly grotesque irony in the Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case is that Zimmerman most likely imagined himself in something similar.

How did either one of these guys get in the position to do what they did?

I have very little confidence that the Army, left to its own investigation and courts-martial, will reveal any of its possible failures to screen out Robert Bales, a family guy (with a red flag financial management career) who had already served three tours in Iraq and reportedly didn’t want to re-deploy. (Who would? In Bales’ favor is that he was sane enough at that point to understand that another combat tour wasn’t in his best interests. If it were me, I’d be testing any soldier not complaining about  returning for a fourth tour. Someone’s enjoying just a bit too much.)

The Zimmerman-Martin episode speaks more directly to the fear-struck homeland side of the equation. Florida has the law that gun-talking/gun-loving/gun-toting small town police chief/Republican legislator Tony Cornish has been pushing here in Minnesota for what seems like years. Mark Dayton vetoed the bill this time around on the grounds that it was — yet another — GOP solution in search of a problem. What statistical evidence there is that ordinary citizens need legal protection to extend their “threat zones” to basically any place they happen to be, allowing them to “Stand Their Ground”, shooting first and thinking of retreating later, is preposterously subjective at best. Even anecdotally there isn’t enough to suggest this is necessary legislation.

The larger point though is the psychological screening that goes on with “avid” gun buffs. As I say, if ever there were a signal that someone needed a thorough screening for irrational thinking and aberrant threat assessment, it’s the guy building an arsenal in his leafy suburban basement or arguing loudly that he needs a loaded gun on his hip to gas up the truck at SuperAmerica.

To any rational person that is thinking of someone in a paranoid fantasy land, i.e. someone very likely to contrive a situation to “deploy” his arsenal.

How someone like George Zimmerman, plainly a nutcase based on his constant 911 calls alone, was allowed to cruise around — a gated community — unimpeded by police has everything to do with political cowardice in the face of gun zealots and NRA lobbying. “Stand Your Ground” is the law in post Tea Party Florida. The survivor’s word that he was acting in self-defense is good enough, no matter how palpably unstable the pistol-packing citizen appears to be.

(In the context of inducing fear in legislators I note the profound under-coverage of the Zimmerman-Martin case by FoxNews — the cable news organization of choice for many gun lovers, I’m guessing — and the entirely predictable twisting of the story into yet another “war on guns” by hysterical liberals.)

The hysteria and fear-mongering, of the imminent threat to home and family by homicidal intruders, is a constant theme of far-right media. I spent a couple of hours driving around Phoenix last winter slack-jawed at the paranoid nonsense being spewed by … Arizona Gun Radio, a station entirely devoted to gun talk, gun rights and … fear of everybody walking past your front door.

George Zimmerman may well be crazy. The likelihood is that a lot of people who have crossed the line from amiable deer-hunter to gun fetishist are also crazy on some level. But the issue here is what is the sequence of events and influences that put a crazy-ass character like him on a “block watch” detail … with consent to carry (at least one) loaded gun … and enough legal immunity that he not only shot to kill an unarmed kid … but hasn’t been arrested?

24 thoughts on “Shoot First, America.

    1. Jeremy Powers says:

      First, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts those two guys never wrote a word of the bill. It was supplied by the NRA. And they admit they don’t know the facts of the case. Two legislators with a law they plagiarized and no facts?

      Second, if the law hasn’t been tested before, the prosecutors are going to want to do it right, and that usually means slowly. Precedence holds a lot of sway in case law. They muck it up, the guy walks free and no prosecutor in the state will dare bring the charge again. And then you DO have the wild, wild West on your hands.

      1. Erik says:

        You reveal yourself as even more unknowledgeable than Lambo when you assert a return to the ‘wild west’.

        Over the last 25 years we’ve generally had gun law liberalization. Crime has gone down.

  1. Erik says:

    “gated community” is being thrown around, lets say, “hysterically”, with its usual class and racial contexts.

    The default narrative template you want to use doesn’t entirely fit here. The kid, Martin, was ostensibly walking back to his gated neighborhood. From USA Today:

    “The neighborhood-watch captain, George Zimmerman, has not been charged and said he shot Martin, who was returning to a gated community in Sanford after buying candy at a convenience store, in self-defense after Martin attacked him. Police say Zimmerman is White; his family says he is Hispanic.”

      1. Erik says:

        I’d bet $50 right now it’s a townhome association.

        It doesn’t have to actually have a gate, right? It can merely be really really gentrified to meet the liberal definition of ‘gated community.’ Like say Edina?

      2. Jim Leinfelder says:

        You’d be out $50.00, Erik. Take a spin down there via Google maps and have a look for yourself. Just off Oregon Ave., there it is: the entrance to Twin Lakes Retreat, replete with gate. Not that its presence matters.

        I wouldn’t rank it with Edina for gentrification, which, of course, has always been thus. The homes there are going pretty cheap in Florida’s cratering real estate market. And it’s vastly more integrated than Edina.

        The point is: the physical layout of the place is all about xenophobia, circling the town homes, keeping out the world’s troubles. That state’s little more than a mosaic of these generic “gated communities.”

      3. Erik says:


        “Hamilton said another neighbor, a black woman, would regularly inform Zimmerman when she was out of town so that he could keep an eye on her place. Hamilton said that when she moved into the middle-class, racially mixed community of about 250 identical townhouses, the black neighbor told her, “Hey, if you need anything, you picked a really good area, since George is part of our neighborhood watch.””

        Read more:

        That’s fine. I’m a literalist. I’ll pay the mythical $50 if it has a gate.

        The point I did not flesh out remains. ‘Gated community’ is a liberal dog whistle for affluent, white, and implicitly racist.

        While this murder may have occurred in what is literally a gated community, it’s not all that white and not all that affluent apparently. Yet the term keeps getting inserted into the story, apparently to enhance / create a racism narrative. And a racism element may very well exist here, but it’s got very little to do with what constitutes their ‘gated community’, such as it is. It’s more about Sheriff Barney Fife.

        So, the term isn’t used accurately. It is used irresponsibly.

      4. Erik says:

        If its got a real gate, I suppose it is to keep the undesirables out. If its got a fake gate, then its to acheive some level of pretension.

      5. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Well, the gate has a electronic card reading pad out front to raise it, Erik. What do you need to see, Ft. Apache? But the larger point is that these sorts of enclaves are premised on fear, rational or not, and create and maintain a siege-like environment.

        Yes, in many cases there is also the pretension of exclusivity, but clearly not in this area where homes go for as little $120,000 these days. The selling point is fear, fear of the “other.” And it seems to have created a hysterical atmosphere that led to the unwarranted shooting of an innocent visitor at the hands of a guy marinating in paranoia.

        These communities sell an illusion, a dangerous illusion, in my opinion, that is antithetical to community, which actually does foster safety.

      6. Erik says:

        I see your point. It can be used accurately a bit less strident than I described, and perhaps was used that way here.

        I’d still assert it’s a loaded term and common dog whistle.

    1. Jeremy: It appears the first target of protestors’ outrage is the Sanford police chief, who is obviously an easier get than the majority of the Florida legislature who voted in the “Stand Your Ground” law routinely criticized by active police officers. (I had missed the part where neither of the two cops who arrived on the scene had the common sense to confiscate the shooting weapon from Zimmerman. Another “interpretation of basic gun rights”?)

      A lot of the Sanford city bureaucracy might be dolts and CYA boobs. But the issue remains that they most likely believe they are following the intent, if not the letter of the law/will of the people. My point is that those laws enable paranoid behavior on the part of people sane citizens likely avoid … as a clearer danger to personal safety than a kid in a hoodie.

  2. Jim Leinfelder says:

    Someone want to explain to me why this investigation has not been summarily taken away from this department and assigned to some competent local investigative authority, assuming Florida has one:

    “This is all very unsettling. I’m sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he’d probably do things differently. I’m sure Trayvon would, too.”

    Chief Bill Lee
    Sanford Police

    Just where, exactly, did 17-year-old Trayvon go wrong here, Chief Lee?

    1. Jimmy: Lee is pretty obviously toast. But accepting him as the sacrificial lamb strikes me as small beans. I note Jeb Bush proudly signed the “Stand Your Ground” law … .

      1. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Yeah, well, Jeb’s no longer Governor. The focus damn well should be on Chief Lee. Even the Stand Your Ground law does not allow for the stalking and murdering of a person merely walking down the street on the basis of skin color and sartorial choice. The focus should also be on the state’s attorney general, too, who should be taking this case away from these incompetents and assigning some other credible investigative authority in Florida to pursue state charges.

        The larger issue of America’s obsession with violence will not be readily solved. We love our guns, LOVE ’em. Jeb signed the bill because it was good politics. That’s who Floridians apparently are. If Jeb thought this reckless legislation would offend, he wouldn’t have signed it.

        Guns and the people who obsess over having them are not going away before we leave this plane. But we CAN be damn sure that when one of these gun fetishists exercises an appalling lack of judgment and murders someone, that they feel the full force of even Florida’s legal system. And law enforcement officials who can’t muster that minimum level of integrity should be out of work.

        Too often we see incidents similar to this one and, to quote Mr. Zimmerman, “these assholes always get away.”

      2. My hope is that this incident pushes Mr. Zimmerman, embodying all this paranoid fetishistic “gun freedom/personal safety” legislation into a supreme court fight.

      3. Erik says:

        Just so ya understand this, they would at that point be arguing the merits of a conviction, but not invalidating the law.

  3. Erik says:

    “A comprehensive psychological profile, administered to gun license applicants, would do wonders for denying permits to the personalities who need guns way too much for reasons that have nothing to do with “personal safety”.”

    Says who? You got a source Lambo?

    I suppose this is intuitive if you’re sitting in your endowed chair of ignorance smearing fecal little bits of public policy jargon against the wall. But there are some obvious statistical and epidemiological reasons why your premise is false.

    1. john sherman says:

      It’s odd that you would be asking Brian for a bibliography given that the last time the discussion wandered down this path (Brian’s post on Sandra Fluke) I understood you to tell Brian (3/6 @ 8:19 p.m.) that he could cite all the studies he wanted and you still wouldn’t believe him.

      This sort of thing is more common than we think; some times it hits the news like the case in Louisiana a couple of Halloweens ago, when the friends of a Japanese exchange student encouraged him to go trick or treating, and when he knocked on some guy’s door he got shot. I can’t remember whether killer was even charged, but I do know he was never convicted of anything.

      However, in Moorhead a few months ago we had a similar, though barely publicized, case. It was an apartment house and one of the tenants was a fairly strange young guy, and one measure of his strangeness was his penchant for wandering into other people’s apartments uninvited. He apparently wasn’t much of an actual menace since the women in the building got rid of him simply by telling him to get the hell out.

      One night about midnight he wandered into the apartment of a middle-aged guy, who took a loaded shotgun from his bedroom and shot the kid killing him. The County Attorney didn’t charge the guy probably figuring he couldn’t get a conviction; still, I would have like to have heard someone ask the guy why he thought a shotgun was a better way to secure himself than a door lock.

      I live between the Moorhead State and Concordia campuses with a lot of students living in or wandering through the neighborhood. I suppose it will surprise no one that students, even the good Lutherans at Concordia, can get paralytically drunk, and one of the things they do from time to time is wander where they don’t belong including into people’s houses.

      A couple of times over the last thirty or so years somebody forgot secure the doors and I found myself dealing with some glassy-eyed kid wondering if this is where the party is. At that time I had a couple of handguns in the house, but never even considered loading much less using them. I just pointed the kids to the house across the street where I figured one more drunk would hardly be noticed.

      Now, I would probably call the cops because we’ve had a couple of alcohol related student deaths in the neighborhood and I’ve become more appreciative of the virtues of de-tox. A year ago last fall a neighbor had a kid come through a latched storm door; they called the cops who arrived almost instantly. Problem solved with no blood shed.

      In my view if you want to defend your household, be willing to pay enough property taxes to be sure that a trained police officer will show up in two minutes or so in case of an emergency. And if you have to sell your guns to do it; that would be a good idea.

      1. Erik says:

        Meh. Either way, what I’m attuned to is Lambo faking his way through stuff without actually knowing anything. And the smart 8 clause sentences are just pro forma anyway so he can get to the part where he calls people stupid and diagnoses their various other inadequacies.

        The point I think is important is not so much the guns. Its that police and the prosecutorial complex in this country are guilty of gross malfeasances. The police especially regularly beat people up, arrest on trumped up disorderly conduct, shoot people when they needn’t, tase people to death, bust in the wrong houses, and lie to protect each other.

        Aside from the fact that we are talking about basic civil rights to self defense, the thing is that the police rare not easonably trusted with exclusivity on the use of force. The Sanford FL sheriff is a perfect example.

  4. Chanhassen says:

    Why isn’t Bales turned over to the Afghans? Doesn’t appear he was on duty or operating under military orders.

    Is there some reason we would allow a foreign soldier to leave the country if they this on US soil? Not likely. Sorry buddy – you’re on your own – better for your sake hope it is swift justice.

    We should be busy packing up and leaving them to enjoy their stone-age existence and to gloat that they’ve toppled every invading army for 800 years. Tell me again why I care about this armpit of the world?

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