COLUMN-America's Wild West gun laws:Bernd Debusmann

Fri Mar 23, 2012 10:45am EDT

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By Bernd Debusmann

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - The killing of a black teenager by a self-appointed vigilante in Florida has trained a spotlight on gun laws reminiscent of the Wild West in 24 U.S. states. Despite widespread outrage over the Florida case, gun-friendly senators in Washington want to make it easier to extend those laws to most of the country.

That would set the United States, where there are more firearms in private hands than in any other country, even farther apart from the rest of the industrialized world as far as guns are concerned. And it would mark yet another success for the National Rifle Association (NRA) in its long campaign against gun controls.

Before getting into the details of the planned legislation, a brief recapitulation of what happened in the Orlando suburb of Sanford on February 26: Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student, walked to a family member's home at night when George Zimmerman, a self-appointed "neighborhood watch captain" spotted him, deemed the teenager suspicious, pursued him and shot him dead with a 9 mm pistol after what he told police was an altercation that made him fear for his life.

Police questioned Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, accepted his account of the incident, and let him go, following the letter or a 2005 Florida state law that allows citizens to use deadly force if they "reasonably believe" they face harm. Unlike previous such cases, the teenager's killing caught national attention, largely because social media served as a vehicle to carry charges of racism and unequal justice to a huge audience.

On March 8, Martin's parents posted a "petition to prosecute the killer of our son" on the website


By March 23, after thousands of demonstrators in New York, Miami and Sanford demanded Zimmerman's arrest, the parents' petition had gathered close to 1.5 million signatures. Sanford's police chief, Bill Lee, stepped down "temporarily" to let tempers cool, as he put it. In Washington, the Congressional Black Caucus, an informal group of African-American legislators, termed the teenager's death a "hate crime."

One might be tempted to think that the wave of indignation, steadily gathering momentum since February 26, might have tempered the enthusiasm of gun-loving Washington legislators for expanding controversial laws. But one would be wrong. And one would underestimate the clout of the NRA, considered one of the three most influential lobbies in the United States.

On March 13, less than two weeks after Trayvon Martin's death, a Democratic senator from gun-friendly Alaska, Mark Begich, introduced the "National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2012." Just another week later, Senator John Thune from South Dakota introduced a bill "to allow reciprocity for the carrying of certain concealed firearms." The differences between the two are minor and due to an arcane dispute between the NRA and the smaller and more radical Gun Owners of America. The NRA has asked its members to contact their senators and ask them to co-sponsor the Begich bill.


Both bills would force all states that issue permits to carry concealed weapons to recognize permits obtained elsewhere. States such as California and New York that have stringent regulations on who can carry a gun would be obliged to allow people with permits obtained from states with lax gun laws, such as Florida. Gun control advocates say that it is laws allowing citizens to carry loaded handguns in public that form the basis of additional legislation, Such as the Florida Stand Your Ground law that barred police from arresting Zimmerman.

As Alcee Hastings, a Democratic congressman from Florida put it: "This misguided law does not make our streets safer, rather it turns our streets into a showdown at the OK Corral. But this is not the Wild West. We are supposed to be a civilized society. Let Trayvon's death not be for naught. Let us honor his life by righting this wrong." Hastings, who is African American, called for a repeal of the law.

That is not likely to happen, and less so in an election year. President Barack Obama has stayed out of the debate on gun laws, which flares every time there is a headline-making shooting, and with few exceptions, lawmakers seek the gun lobby's favor and the resulting votes. This is the chief reason why advocates of tighter gun regulations have had little success over the past two decades.

Another reason, according to Kristen Rand of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, is that most Americans are unaware of the number of people killed in incidents similar to the shooting of Trayvor Martin. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) does not compile statistics on such cases and most of them are never known outside the place where they happened.

"The average person has no idea of the scale of the problem," said Rand. "If they had, things might be different."

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Comments (3)
AnAverageMan wrote:
What an ill-convieved irresponsible article. To take one incident and turn all gun owning American’s into gun toting hoodlums bent on causing death and chaos in the streets is absurb. The plain and simple fact is that gun laws have become much more lax in the past 40 years. Yet there is overwhelmingly fewer deaths concieved by firearms then there were 40 years ago. I am a gun legal gun owner. I hope never to have to point my weapon at another individual, never mind pull the trigger. But my right to defend myself and my family should not be burdened by state lines. As much as I would dread having to be put in the position to have to use deadly force, I much more dread being put in a position where my child was killed because seconds matter and I was unable to defend them. Because there is no doubt that no matter how tough the gun laws, criminals will arm themselves. They are, after all, criminals. Take a good look at statistics in countries where guns are illegal. Did you know in England that burgerly of homes during the day while families are home happens at a ridiculous rate. That is because they don’t have to worry about getting through the locks and they know there’s no armed people in there. It is our right to defend ourselves as Americans against anyone that means to do us harm. That includes tyranical and oppressive goverments that try to infringe upon our rights. The folks who write these articles fail to mentioned the amount of lives that are or could have been saved if more citizens were armed. The fact that I carry a weapon to defend myself against those who mean to do me harm, does not make me an irresponsible criminal. Those who use this ridiculous “Wild West” arguement know very little about American history. Shootouts were a thing for the movies. This was not how the supposed wild west was. Plain and simply when citzens are armed, the criminal loses his advantage.

Mar 23, 2012 12:14pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Joe_Reeser wrote:
“Another reason, according to Kristen Rand of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, is that most Americans are unaware of the number of people killed in incidents similar to the shooting of Trayvor Martin.”

And yet you give not a single example. If there are so many similar instances, as you claim, where are the examples? There should be so many from which to choose.

And seriously – the whole “wild west” and “OK Corral” nonsense again? The “wild west” simply was not the ‘wild west’ you folks try to portray. You watch too many movies. It’s the same charge folks like Hastings makes every time gun control is loosened and it has NEVER come to pass.

Mar 23, 2012 12:21pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
davemason55 wrote:
Yes, it’ll be blood in the streets when concealed carry is reciprocal nationwide. This is the same old worn out argument that was attempted so many times before in an attempt to thwart state-by-state granting of concealed carry legislation. It never happened. In fact, if the author of this article would take some time to do a bit of research, he would discover that the increase in gun ownership and concealed carry permitting across the country has resulted in a lowering of the violent crime rate. Read “More Guns. Less Crime” by Dr. John Lott as s starting point.

The tragic death of the young man in Florida was not the result of a concealed carry permit, but of a misguided possible vigilante. We just don’t know all the facts yet. Concealed carry permit holders are, as a group, much more law-abiding than the general public. We also know better than to keep following someone like Mr. Martin, even if we think he may be up to no good. As bearers of arms, the vast majority of us avoid trouble, knowing that we have a higher standard of conduct that we must meet. Talk with the average concealed carry permit holder (as Mr. Debusmann should have before writing this article) and you’ll be amazed at how cautious we are when the potential for trouble looms. Presenting our pistol, much less sending a potentially lethal projectile into action, is a decision of last resort.

One other item that’s worth mentioning is that in many cases, those of us who carry concealed have more training AND practice with our firearms than many in full-time law enforcement. I know this to be true because I was in law enforcement. The exceptions are typically those in special operations squads, SWAT, etc. who spend much of their time in high risk situations. The typical street officer, often because of departmental budget restrictions, just doesn’t have much opportunity to qualify that frequently. I wish they did. We’d all be in better shape.

I agree with an earlier comment that taking a tragic case like that of the death of Mr. Martin, and making it into a gun control crusade is not helpful. It’s typical of the Violence Policy Center and the Brady Campaign, however.

It is truly unfortunate that we live in a world where people do bad things to one another, where there is even a need to consider protecting ourselves from other humans. But it is the reality. There is a lot of what I call sin in our culture. We live in a fallen world, despite what the liberal elites say and think.

Concealed carry reciprocity will not result in an OK Corral scenario or anything even approaching that oft-quoted missive. If we actually were able to go back to the “Old West,” we’d have much lower crime rates than we experience now. So, if passing a national bill will result in such an end, I’m all for it!

Mar 23, 2012 4:22pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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