Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: ‘Self defense’ takes a bloody toll in Florida

A 15-year-old was killed Wednesday inside a home in Brownsville. A 14-year-old was later charged with manslaughter.
A 15-year-old was killed Wednesday inside a home in Brownsville. A 14-year-old was later charged with manslaughter. Miami Herald Staff

The guns were kept for safety. For security. To protect home and family. What a dreadful toll that conceit has exacted from Florida families.

On Wednesday, in northwestern Miami-Dade County, Florida’s great firearms delusion was once again undone by tragic reality, when a 14-year-old boy and three teenage friends were fooling around with the pistol he had found in his parent’s bedroom. The errant gunshot killed 15-year-old Jakyri Fleurimar.

Two weeks before, a similar scenario unfolded a few miles north in suburban Cooper City. A 14-year-old boy was unable to resist the allure of his stepfather’s pistol. The shot killed 14-year-old Charlie Martin.

In the past few weeks, other Florida kids discovered their parents’ firearms and the statistical probabilities trumped all that home safety propaganda pushed by the gun lobby. In Plant City, a 9-year-old boy took a bullet to the face after he and his 11-year-old brother found where their mother had stashed her .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol.

In Putnam County, a 16-year-old boy sneaked away from his home in the early morning hours last Sunday to visit a classmate whose parents were away. He and his friends were amusing themselves with the homeowner’s 12-gauge shotgun. The boy was waving it around. Rayne Michelle-Marie Dettmann, 16, was killed with blast to the torso.

The epidemic of accidental shootings struck an apartment in West Palm Beach last month, where a 6-year-old boy found his father’s .40 caliber handgun and put a bullet through his 7-year-old brother’s face. The child survived.

In Miami, on Aug. 4, the parents of Darnal Mundy told police that the 3-year-old was probably looking for an iPad when he came across their Glock 9 mm pistol and somehow shot himself in the head. The child lived, but his head wound was profound.

Dorphise Jean told my colleague Charles Rabin that little Darnal must have used a chair to reach an upper drawer where she stored her loaded weapon.“We both have firearms. We always secure it. We had it locked up but obviously our son is a very curious boy,” Jean told Rabin. “Please don’t bash us because it was in a secure area. Don’t bash us as parents because we are good parents.”

Undoubtedly, other parents in these dismal reports put themselves in the same category — good parents who mistakenly assumed that guns would bolster their families’ safety.

In Jacksonville, one 11-year-old twin shot the other after they found their mother’s rifle. The bullet passed through the boy’s arm, lodged in his back and left him in serious condition.

In Venice, while a mother was just outside the car parked in a preschool parking lot talking to other parents, a 3-year-old found a pistol and shot his 1-year-old sister in the face. Doctors managed to save the little girl.

Six-year-old Izabella Votta did not survive her father’s misguided notions of self-defense. Perhaps, 29-year-old Evan Hernandez was imagining how he would deal with a home intruder as the Panama City man, according to court records obtained by the Panama City News Herald, “was practicing in front of the mirror and the gun accidentally went off and went through the mirror and the wall and fatally injured the daughter.”

On Aug. 2, Davie police said a local father had been teaching his 12-year-old daughter about firearm safety. The lesson ended when his gun accidentally discharged and a bullet struck the girl in the arm.

A week later, a 16-year-old boy at Boomer’s amusement arcade in Boca Raton shot a 15-year-old companion in the leg as he tried to stuff his .25 caliber pistol into his back pocket. In June, in a Lake Worth apartment, a 17-year-old shot another teen. The accidental shooter told police he thought the gun had been unloaded.

Florida’s adult accidental gunslingers were also doing a pretty good job of shooting themselves and others over the past few weeks. In Clearwater, a man checking into a resort hotel on Sand Key was fumbling through his pockets for his wallet when his Glock discharged. He was struck in the leg. Four bystanders were injured by tile fragments when that same bullet blasted a hole in the hotel floor.

Josue Sanchez, 20, now faces manslaughter charges, after he mishandled his 9 mm pistol and killed his friend Lazaro Martinez, 19. Hialeah police said the two had been smoking marijuana and taking photographs of themselves posing with the gun.

In Orange County, a 23-year-old taking a gun training class at the Instant Replay Pawn Shop and Shooting Range shot himself in the leg. Just last week, the Broward Sheriff’s Office reported that a young man managed to wound himself at a shooting range located inside Gun World of South Florida in Deerfield Beach, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Neither of those gunshot wounds were serious, but in April, Ocala Police Officer Jared Forsyth was accidentally killed by a fellow officer in another gun range mishap.

At least three Floridians were wounded over the past three months in gun-cleaning accidents. And in the Central Florida town of Mims, 49-year-old Charles Cooper made a fatal miscalculation when he attempted to demonstrate to a friend that his gun was unloaded. He pointed the pistol at his head and pulled the trigger. Police said that the magazine had been removed but Cooper apparently had forgotten about the bullet in the chamber.

Of course, this recent rash of accidental shootings came amid our usual deluge of gun suicides and murders. The Florida Department of Firearms reported that firearms were used in 687 of the state’s 981 murders in 2014. That’s daunting enough, but in a typical year, Florida authorities report twice as many suicides than murders using guns. For example, in 2011, Florida reported 1,474 firearm suicides compared with with 827 firearm homicides. But somehow, despite accidental and suicidal mayhem, the perception persists that these guns are keeping us safe.

It’s an illusion not shared by the scientific community. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center has surveyed some 150 researchers in public health, public policy, sociology and criminology over the past year and found that 84 percent thought that having a gun in the home increased the risk of suicide, that 72 percent felt that a gun in the home increased the likelihood that a woman residing there would be the victim of a homicide, that 64 percent felt that guns made the home a more dangerous place.

The center’s director, David Hemenway, wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Almost two-thirds of the people in the U.S. population live in homes without guns and there is no evidence that the inhabitants of these homes are at greater risk of being robbed, injured or killed by criminals compared with citizens in homes with guns. Instead, the evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home increases the likelihood not only that a household member will be shot accidentally, but also that someone in the home will die in a suicide or homicide.”

These past few weeks in Florida provide plenty of tragic evidence to back those findings.

Of course, this being Florida, our legislators cling to the safety-security myth peddled by the firearms industry. Gun advocates among the lawmakers — backed by the famously tenacious firearms lobby — have refiled legislation for 2016 that would remove prohibitions against carrying licensed concealed firearms onto college campuses.

They claim, despite the bloody evidence to the contrary, despite so many accidental shootings, despite common sense, that more guns will only make our kids safer.

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