If there was one place where our nation could test the hypothesis that more guns make us safer, it would be Kennesaw, Georgia - known around the state as "Gun Central." Tragically, but not unexpectedly, this hypothesis was proven wrong again last week during a shooting at a FedEx facility in the city that injured six people.
Since 1982, Kennesaw has had a law requiring all of its residents to own a firearm. Though this ordinance, for the most part, is rarely enforced its passage was meant to send a message to both potential criminals as well as lawmakers in Washington. If guns do indeed serve to protect communities and ward off criminals, Kennesaw should have been the last place for a mass shooting incident. Yet, Geddy Kramer was not deterred when he opened fire on his co-workers.
The FedEx shooting is just the latest in the growing trend of mass shooting incidents in this country. This, combined with the fact that no evidence exists linking a decrease in crime to more pro-gun laws, should be enough for legislators concerned about public safety to pass common-sense regulations. But no amount of tragic violence seems to be enough.
Instead, mass shootings seem to embolden gun manufacturers and gun lobbies to intensify their advocacy efforts and sell more guns to more people. In turn, the public reacts to these efforts and scare tactics by buying more guns in fear that lawmakers will soon take away their right to bear arms - creating a vicious cycle that is particularly detrimental to communities of color.
Statistics illustrate that people of color often end up losing on both sides of the gun. Yet, this information never takes center stage in the much-heated debate about Second Amendment rights.
For example, in Kennesaw, the very city that legally requires residents to own a gun, successful African American, business owner John McNeil was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for doing nothing more than firing at an armed intruder to protect himself and his family on his own property. Only after seven years of advocacy by the NAACP, efforts by his legal team, and pleading guilty to a lesser charge was John released from prison last year. And even with his release, John will spend over a decade more of his life on probation.
John's case is perfectly juxtaposed with that of George Zimmerman, who was never held accountable by the courts for the shooting death of Travyon Martin, an unarmed teenager who was racially profiled, followed, and killed by Zimmerman who claimed self-defense. It begs the question that despite the Constitution's promise of "equal protection under the law," who truly does have the right to self defense in America?
Statistics on the application of "stand your ground" laws - which take away a duty to retreat from dangerous situations and allow gun owners to shoot first and ask questions later - help answer this question. A study by the Urban Institute shows that these laws are carried out in a racially biased manner. When white shooters kill black victims, 34% of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable, but when black shooters kill white victims, only 3% of the deaths are deemed justified in court - proving that people of color are victims on both sides of the gun.
Contradicting the notion that easier access to guns and greater leverage to use them creates more safety, studies also show that "stand your ground" laws do not deter crime. To the contrary, one study by Texas A&M University showed that justifiable homicides nearly doubled from 2000-2010 when many states passed these "shoot first" laws, and overall homicides increased by 500 - 700 per year in "stand your ground" states.
These perverse results from our nation's gun rights experiment should be all the information we need to reevaluate our approach to gun laws. We must be willing to tune out the self-serving rhetoric - and funding - from gun manufactures and their interest groups to find common sense solutions that address the racial bias inherent in the criminal justice system and keep all communities safe. We can no longer afford to engage in the failed experiments that have lead to the culture of gun violence we see today.
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