Calhoun's Cannons for Feb 19, 2014
The country gets what it celebrates.
Pull out a gun and you've got murder on your mind.
Pull out a spoon, you're thinking, "soup." Pull out a rake and it's "leaves." Pull out a hammer, you'll think, "nails. It's awfully hard to kill a man with a spoon, and you can't eat soup with a gun. So when you pull a gun, you've got murder on your mind.
One of the basic requirements of being a citizen in a civilized country is a duty to keep the peace, uphold the law, and do no harm to your fellow citizens. Even when threatened with violence, you still had a duty to retreat, if at all possible. That duty was the bright line of a civil society, a society that put a premium on seeing that harm must be avoided as a first step. Only when that proved impossible was a citizen allowed to meet force with force. And even then, any survivors of that encounter would still be taken to task and if the force was unwarranted or excessive, they would be held to account.
No more. In many ALEC-driven, Republican-led states, that duty is nothing but a quaint anachronism. Instead of duty-to-retreat, we now have "stand-your-ground" laws, a complete reversal that replaces a responsibility to your fellow citizens with the absolute triumph of the self-contained individual. No longer responsible for keeping the peace as a citizen among other citizens, in "stand-your-ground" states, the individual's singular perceptions, no matter how distorted or disconnected from reality they may be, are the new benchmark.
Both laws are a perfect demonstration of the difference between a civil state and a vigilante state.
In Florida, for example, if you're white and think that all young black males are a thuggish menace, or you're upset, angry, are having a bad day and you pick a fight with one of your black fellow citizens for no reason other than you're in a foul mood, and suddenly you start to feel "frightened" because your bullying has now gotten you into a tight spot and your quarrel is starting to go south on you, you no longer have a duty keep the peace and get the hell out of there. Instead, you can pull out a gun and start shooting and then claim you were "scared" and "in fear of your life" from all these "thugs." And get away with it.
That's certainly what happened to Michael Dunn. Had he lived in a "duty-to-retreat" state, the prosecutor would have asked Mr. Dunn the following questions: "Was your car in working order? Did your car have wheels? Why didn't you use the wheels to roll on over to another parking space farther away from the loud music and the annoying kids, before you started shooting?" And he would have been convicted of murder.
Civil state, vigilante state. That's where we are today, faced with a national question on what kind of country we want to turn into, with a special added wrinkle: Guns and Race.
In a Feb. 2 story, New York Times reporter, Lizette Alvarez, observes, "It is also possible that Mr. Dunn assumed the teenagers were armed because so many Florida residents do own guns, including Mr. Dunn . . ." Adds Mary Anne Franks, associate law professor at the University of Miami, "Once you have a situation that someone white and male feels threatened by a group of young black men, is it possible that he sees a gun where there was no gun? That is one of the more disturbing questions."
Indeed it is. In stand-your-ground states especially, there's a growing list of "Don'ts" for African Americans: Don't drive while black, don't walk while black, don't run while black, don't wear hoodies, don't play loud music, don't be an uppity, mouthy kid, don't smoke pot with your white friends; he'll get a fine, his record cleansed after a little community service, while you'll go to jail, end up with a record and a ruined future. And if you're injured in an accident in the middle of the night, for God's sake, don't go pound on a white man's front door begging for help. If he's armed, you're finished.
So many don'ts, so many deaths, so many disturbing questions. Guns and race, race and guns, guns and guns, civil state and vigilante state. Our choice: A country grounded in a citizen's duty to uphold the law, be responsible for keeping the peace in order to maximize the safety of their fellow citizens, or a fearful, racist, armed-to-the-teeth, angry country grounded in pure, celebrated self-interest: My gun, my rules, MY country. And for the ones with the most money and the biggest guns? ALL the ground is THEIR ground and lesser Citizens need to step off the sidewalk.