Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Armed and dangerous

 

OUR OPINION: Dunn verdict aside, Florida’s gun laws amount to a death sentence for innocent victims

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

The all-too-familiar takeaway from the trial of Michael Dunn is that racial clashes and the ease with which Floridians can obtain and carry guns can be a deadly mix. In 2012, Dunn, a 47-year-old white man, fired his 9mm handgun several times into an SUV carrying four black teenagers after an altercation over loud music outside a Jacksonville convenience store. Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old from Georgia, was killed.

Dunn was charged with first-degree murder and several counts of attempted murder for firing 10 rounds at the SUV. On Saturday a Jacksonville jury convicted him of three counts of attempted murder but deadlocked on the first-degree murder charge. Dunn could face up to 60 years behind bars, and the Jacksonville prosecutor is mulling over whether to try him again for the murder of Jordan Davis.

Although Dunn didn’t invoke Florida’s overly broad Stand Your Ground law — he claimed that Mr. Davis had pointed a shotgun at him, making him fear for his life — it still played a part at his trial. Judge Russell L. Healey told the jury that they should acquit if they found the defendant had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground.

In July, a jury acquitted George Zimmerman after being given the same instructions by the judge in his trial for shooting an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Sanford in 2012.

Both Dunn and Mr. Zimmerman claimed they had been threatened by their victims. Whether that’s true in either case can’t be clearly determined. No shotgun was ever found in the Jacksonville shooting, and witnesses in the Sanford case gave conflicting versions of what they saw or heard.

But in both cases, race was surely a factor. Dunn referred to the teens’ loud music as “thug music.” Mr. Zimmerman saw an unarmed black teen in a hoodie sweatshirt who had gone to a convenience store for snacks as an intruder in the community he had volunteered to guard.

Of course, racial animus is not the only driver of such tragedies. Curtis Reeves, a retired Tampa police captain, stands charged with second-degree murder in the movie-theater killing of Chad Oulson. Both men? White, but only one armed with a gun, which ended their argument.

Just imagine what the results of these confrontations would have been if no guns had been involved. More than likely three young men would still be alive, and three men would not have ended up, in one case, convicted and facing a long prison term, in the other case, acquitted but publicly vilified with a life in shambles and, in yet another, awaiting trial.

This is what handguns do: ruin lives no matter who pulls the trigger. Unfortunately, revering the Second Amendment is a practically a religion in the Florida Legislature, which just can’t do enough for the National Rifle Association.

This obeisance has left Florida’s streets indeed mean and dangerous. The latest proposal of the Florida affiliate of the NRA is a bill that would prevent schools from punishing kids who bring toy guns to school. Nicknamed the “Pop Tart bill” for a Maryland student who was punished for biting his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun, the bill is getting early support in legislative committees. Really, do we need this law?

Common sense says No. But common sense never stopped an NRA initiative in Tallahassee. Until it does prevail, Floridians can expect more fatal shootings where racial assumptions and accessible guns escalate a conflict that otherwise might have ended with cuts and bruised egos instead of death.

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