The mass shooting at the Liberty Square housing projects Tuesday morning is tragedy enough. A 29-year-old man was killed on the spot. Another victim died at the hospital. In all, nine people were shot, in what must have felt like a scene out of a bad gangland movie.
More than 50 bullet casings littered the ground when it was all over. And as of this writing, no one has been arrested. Liberty Square and the blocks surrounding it near 12th Avenue in Liberty City are festooned with surveillance cameras. More than a quarter of them weren’t working.
The police have put additional manpower into the area, but clearly, the heavily armed few who terrorize the small neighborhood don’t fear the police.
Now, Florida has added insult to the serial injury in a state that is quickly becoming the modern equivalent of Hollywood’s fictional Wild West, since in the real “wild west” you had to check your guns at the sheriff’s office before entering Dodge City. In Arizona, Sheriff Wyatt Earp enforced a broad ordinance declaring it “unlawful to carry in the hand or upon the person or otherwise any deadly weapon within the limits of said city of Tombstone, without first obtaining a permit in writing.”
In modern-day Florida, by contrast, if and when the shooter or shooters are tried for this latest shooting, they will be treated to Florida’s expanding form of frontier justice, in which gangsterism and violence are routinely rewarded by the state’s Stand Your Ground law. That law, a Florida innovation, has become the province of the last man standing in gang shootouts. Who could argue with the claim that the killer believed the other gangster or gangsters were threatening their lives?
In a state where so many people are armed, anyone can be threatening. Much worse, when the “anyone” is in an area littered with drugs, gangs, poverty and ready violence.
The NRA’s newest extension of Stand Your Ground is breathtaking in its short-sightedness. Trading on the tragic case of Marissa Alexander, who faced a draconian, 20-year sentence for firing what she said was a warning shot at her allegedly abusive husband, the state’s real governor, NRA chieftain Marion Hammer, and her state gun lobby pushed through a law permitting gun owners to lawfully fire a “warning shot” if they feel threatened.
However, the bill muddies the standard for when a gun owner feels threatened inside their own home or vehicle, altering the previous standard of “reasonable” belief that a threat of death or great bodily harm exists, to one in which the threat must be “imminent.”
The sponsor of the warning-shot bill, State Rep. Neil Combee, says he isn’t even sure what the provision will mean in a court of law. I suppose it’s just good enough that Marion wished it to be.
And so, ironically, though Combee cast the bill in part as an act of sympathy for Alexander, raising the standard for self-defense in one’s home seems destined to have the opposite effect, without altering a single comma in the state’s absurd mandatory-minimum law, which condemned Alexander to a potential lifetime behind bars before the case was thrown out on appeal.
Meanwhile, for the average gang shooter, the newly wrought Stand Your Ground bill promises to be a boon. The shooting at Liberty Square took place in front of the residences of nine people. And what could be more imminently threatening than a random spray of bullets? More shooters like whoever mowed down those nine people in Liberty City will be exonerated for firing deadly direct hits into human bodies or warning shots into the air, even if those bullets hit someone on the way down.
And so in Florida, shooters blasting away at rival gang members or strangers they think are associated with rival gangs are now better off under state law than people who fire a gun inside their own home to protect themselves.
Meanwhile, the new law also makes it lawful for children to carry mock guns in school, because surely that won’t make black and brown children more vulnerable to deadly misinterpretation by police as they walk home with their pop-tart pistols.
It seals records in successful Stand Your Ground cases, so the gun industry won’t have to be bothered by pesky statistics showing how the new law is applied.
And it does absolutely nothing to improve the safety of citizens like those being besieged by violence in places like Liberty Square.