Sunday, July 14. 2013
Some scattered links this week. But first, this week's Richard Crowson cartoon, which would have been a fine illustration for last night's Koch post, or indeed on anything else on Kansas over the last two years:
Today's "Opinion Line" was roughly divided between comments critical of the Kochs and ones that echoed their smug lines: "I fail to understand why it is 'greed' to want to keep your hard-earned money but not 'greed' to take someone else's money." "The biggest problem with this country is that there are too many people sitting in the wagon rather than pulling the wagon. Unless our government quites giving able-bodied people free rides, we're doomed financially." Somehow I find it hard to think of Charles Koch's income as "hard-earned money," and if anyone's "riding in the wagon" it is he.
In other Wichita news, five people were shot last night, one dead, but the paper had no details. Earlier a guy was killed in his apartment, where he retreated after having fired shots in a local K-Mart. Not clear on the details there, either. Then there was this front-page article: Lawyer says robbery victim 'stepped over the line': Someone tried to rob a coin shop, using a BB gun that looked like a 9mm handgun. The clerk handed over $2,800 in loot, then pulled out a real gun, and they fought over it, leaving both clerk and robber shot, but the robber was able to break free and escape. The clerk then took another gun and shot the fleeing robber in the back. The robber survived: he was quickly caught, was convicted of the robbery, and sentenced to 12 years (a long time, but he had a history and was on probation). Hard to say that the latter act was self-defense, but for once I wouldn't be inclined to charge him (even if the robber had died). The continuity of the acts counts for something, and it's hard to recognize just when the threat ends (especially if you've been threatened with a gun, beaten, and shot).
On the other hand, I worry that the conclusion armed robbers will draw from this is to shoot sooner, and I'll note that if the clerk hadn't had the guns nobody would have been shot. Our ultra-lax gun policy is creating a cult of aggressive self-defense that will lead to a sort of arms race between criminals and target-victims, with lots of borderline cases and extraneous victims. I wrote about a case a few months ago -- Over a Barrel -- where a Wichita man named Cheever was charged with second degree murder. He took a gun and a friend with him, entered the back yard of a neighbor (Gammon) he suspected of stealing his motorcycle. Gammon challenged the intruder, and had his own gun for emphasis. The intruder, Cheever, then shot and killed Gammon in his own backyard and claimed he did so in self-defense. The trial was underway when I wrote, so I didn't know the verdict then, but the jury bought the self-defense argument, so Cheever was acquitted. Had Gammon shot first he almost certainly would have been acquitted too, if indeed he had even been charged. It occurs to me now that if Cheever had intended to kill Gammon from the start -- and they seem to have had a long history of mutual hatred -- what he did was a perfectly good scheme to get away with it.
As you all no doubt know by now, a while back a white guy in Florida, George Zimmerman, shot and killed a unarmed black teenager and claimed it was self-defense. (For a straightforward account of the uncontested facts of the case, see this piece by Roberto Martinez.) Since Florida is a state with a sordid past of allowing white guys to kill blacks and get away with it, this became a big news story, and it ultimately resulted in Zimmerman being charged with and tried for second-degree murder (with a manslaughter option). The jury acquitted Zimmerman. It's not clear what this proves: one possibiity is that Florida is as racist as ever, but another is that we've gotten very soft in the head over claims of self-defense. (Here's a thought experiment: what if Trayvon Martin, the black teenager, had his own gun and had shot first?)
TPM quoted a letter from "a criminal defense lawyer in Wisconsin," who tried to figure out what happened and attributes much of it to nuances of law specific to Florida:
Well, it's a system that we've talked ourselves into constructing because we've bought into the argument that people need to be armed to defend themselves. Lots of things go into that argument: declining respect for the law, for the police, and for the courts; distrust of government, which is often justified because the government reports to, and is preoccupied with, the rich. This is yet another area where increasing inequality has been poisoning the culture: today's mantra is we have to be responsible for ourselves, and can only depend on ourselves, which soon degenerates into the notion that the last true friend and ally we are allowed is a gun. The more people with guns there are, the more people get shot: accidentally, of course, like this incident, where two toddlers were playing "cops and robbers," or in all sorts of fuzzy gray areas, like Zimmerman and Cheever. And this, in turn, has led to all sorts of perverse scenarios, like the "recommendation" of the defense attorney above.
My own theory is that the right, attempting to cling onto power despite the fact that virtually nothing they've done in the last 30 years has worked even on its own terms, have actively adopted a program of inculcating mass stupidity. This is just one of many examples.
But I also have to admit that I can't hear the words "self-defense" without thinking of Israel. If you want some idea of how far a "right to self-defense" can go toward covering up cold-blooded murder, take a look at Israel's recent history (like ever since Qibya in 1953).
On to the links:
Had to cut this short because I lost a few hours to a power outage along the way -- not to mention the long preamble. Leaves that much more for later, I guess.
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