Bruce Springsteen, "Murder, Incorporated"

>> Saturday, March 31, 2012

This was on my mind--actually, it was on my mind after I wrote yesterday's post. While Springsteen borrowed the refrain and title from organized crime, that's obviously not what the song's about; Springsteen's singing about the toxic effect of guns on American culture.

This is one of the things that needs to be said: the homicide of Trayvon Martin isn't just about race, though I don't think there's any credible way of saying it isn't about race, too; it's also about guns. It's hard, though it isn't impossible, to come up with a thought experiment where Trayvon Martin is a white kid who draws George Zimmerman's attention and suspicion. (Let us pretend, for the purposes of this mental experiment, that we don't know if Zimmerman used a racial epithet during his 911 call, or that he even said "goons".) What is impossible, I think, is constructing an imaginary alternate universe where Zimmerman gets out of his truck and follows Martin unarmed. Perhaps it's barely more possible to write a fictional scenario where Zimmerman gets out of his truck armed with a hand-to-hand weapon (a knife, a bat), perhaps an improvised one (a tire iron, a box cutter).

Zimmerman didn't get out of his truck and follow Trayvon Martin around because he was black (that's only, probably, what drew Zimmerman's attention to Trayvon); he got out and followed Martin around because he had a gun. Because he felt safe. Empowered. Able to take on some kid.

And am I saying we should ban handguns or firearms generally? Well, no. I guess not. For one thing, I don't like the idea of mucking with the Bill Of Rights, even if I think the Second Amendment is a foolish, antiquated and obsolete relic of a poorly-thought-out Eighteenth Century national defense regime. And I know responsible gun owners who use firearms for sport, and I don't know that I have a problem with that; and there are still a few Americans who use firearms to put meat in their freezers for those tight winters, and I definitely don't have a problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is people who think they need a gun for self-defense. Because I'm not sure they're really prepared to kill someone, even someone breaking into their homes. I know, they all say they're ready and a lot of them would ask me what I'd do if my home and loved ones were endangered by an intruder, as if appealing to my fear and weakness should bypass and trump my reason and common sense, not to mention some small experience dealing with the legal aftermath of acts of violence (justified and unjustified, and more than a few involving various kinds of guns). Also because I think having that gun "for self-defense" breeds overconfidence and haste, especially outside the home; maybe if my only defense is a club or knife, I'll think about what I'm doing before I jump to an irrevocable conclusion. Oh, and there's the third "because": because there's an irreversibility when the trigger is pulled and physics and chemistry take over and run their irrevocable course.

Something I find myself thinking about is how Joe Zamudio almost killed a hero. The story, you may remember this, is that when a mentally disturbed man showed up at a Tuscon, Arizona meet-and-greet to attempt to murder Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and he killed six people (including a little girl and a Federal judge who died tried to shield another victim) and injured thirteen more (including Rep. Giffords), Zamudio heard shots outside the drug store where he was shopping. And Zamudio had a legal concealed weapon and ran outside to confront whatever was going on, his hand on his weapon, and he saw a man holding a gun.

And what Zamudio didn't know at that moment was that the man with the gun had just wrested it from the actual assailant, you see. And Zamudio was, the story goes, filled with confidence when he ran out of the store--he had his gun, right? But thank the Fates he hesitated when he actually came upon the scene of violence, he hesitated and he didn't shoot the guy who was one of the other rescuers on the scene.

An indescribably awful scene could have been made so much worse, you know.

I think George Zimmerman had that same kind of confidence getting out of his truck even after the 911 dispatcher told him he didn't need to do that. Zimmerman had his gun, right? He was safe. Nevermind that common sense is that he would have been even safer inside his truck, a combination shelter, means of escape and (yes) deadly weapon (truck versus pedestrian: bet on the truck). Zimmerman had chrome-plated confidence and he could stop a crime he didn't really know was happening and he could protect himself from someone he didn't really know was dangerous (he just assumed). And I'm not even sure it matters all that much whether Trayvon Martin confronted the scary white man stalking him with a pistol or Zimmerman just saw a suspicious youth in a hoodie and pulled the trigger (deliberately? accidentally? maliciously? fearfully?). Whatever happened, George Zimmerman didn't hesitate.

Not when he should have. Not at any point he could have.


John Healy Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 10:45:00 AM EDT  

Eric, I think people are leaving out the War on Drugs when they look at this mess. Why are young black men seen as thugs? WoD. Why so many guns on the street? WoD. Is this so-called war making us safer? No. Is it making things worse. Yes. Much worse, because the guns and thug mentality are just at the tip of the iceberg. One could riff about the black-market, the gray-market, the ugly destabilization of South and Central America, The destruction in our own culture as we continue a failed effort, but maybe it's simpler to discuss the microcosm. What can happen to one young person, in a senseless "war'.

Nick from the O.C.,  Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 12:02:00 AM EDT  

Heinlein. "Tunnel in the Sky."

Where I first absorbed the concept that having a lot of firepower at hand can be more dangerous than being unarmed.

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