Another only-in-America news cycle: Four young teenagers in three states were shot by strangers for approaching the incorrect house or car. Because America lets too many people own dangerous guns.
In Kansas City, Missouri, 84-year-old White man Andrew Lester shot 16-year-old Black Ralph Yarl through the front door and in the head. Yarl lived amazingly but will never be the same. Lester told investigators he never spoke to Yarl before firing.
Kaylin Gillis, a White 20-year-old from rural upstate New York, and her companions drove up the incorrect driveway. According to a local sheriff, 65-year-old White homeowner Kevin Monahan shot and killed her as the automobile left.
In Texas, Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., a 25-year-old Latino male, shot two young cheerleaders after one opened the door to his car in a grocery store parking lot.
Many Americans, including Republican leaders, argue that most gun owners are law-abiding citizens. However, mindless violence isn’t limited to criminals in a gun-saturated society like ours. Law-abiding citizens who use guns to kill or maim others will cause senseless violence.
No one knows why these shooters bought guns. I’m sure it wasn’t “I’m going to shoot a kid in my driveway.” These men may have been law-abiding people who wished to protect themselves, their families, and their property. Perhaps they just wanted a gun.
However, because the US lets practically anyone arm themselves, we facilitate a system where ordinary, often untrained citizens can quickly take others’ lives. A vicious cycle: Conservatives who oppose gun regulation present an image of a dangerous society where everyone must be prepared to use lethal force. Most gun owners claim they own guns because they’re terrified of crime. However, when gun ownership is unrestricted, gun crime and violence increase.
Thus, loose gun restrictions and mass gun ownership cause gun violence and breed fear and gun ownership.
America must change. Gun ownership should be much more complex than car ownership: Our laws should demand considerable training, passing a strict test, realistic limits on what type of weapon one can acquire, insurance, safety rules, and frequent mental and physical health checks. You can’t responsibly own a gun if you can’t drive.
No one knows if any of these shooters would have met these standards. These simple rules could save many lives. A stricter gun ownership process could remind gun owners that their weapon is their responsibility. If they were fired first and asked questions later, they would be held accountable in criminal court.
This doesn’t always happen in the US. Gun owners repeatedly make reckless and dangerous decisions, such as keeping a gun in the home when they know their child is emotionally disturbed or violent, killing someone quickly and claiming a “stand your ground” defense, or shooting at a stranger over a doorbell or knock.
In 1984, New York City subway rider Bernie Goetz shot four unarmed adolescents after one requested $5. One teen was paraplegic and brain damaged. Goetz said he pulled out a revolver and fired because he had been robbed in a violent city before.
Given Goetz’s racist views, it was preposterous. The jury accepted it. Goetz was found guilty of firearms charges but not attempted murder or assault. Goetz served eight months in prison after appeals.
The case momentarily gripped the public because it addressed essential questions: Do we base criminality on a person’s reasonable beliefs? Do we insist that everyone follow a baseline standard of a good person, regardless of background or perspective? How much force is too much to defend property?
These questions persist. Do you want to live in a country where Goetz or the three first-shooters in Missouri, New York, and Texas decide when to use deadly force?
Do we want a country with laws and norms where people can make honest mistakes without dying?
Conservatives insist that most gun owners are rational and law-abiding. So, a strict but fair licensing process should make it easier to prove. When they use a weapon they know is meant to kill carelessly, we must hold them accountable with criminal charges and substantial jail time. Reasonable, responsible, law-abiding individuals wouldn’t tolerate less.