In the wake of the tragic shootings of Trayvon Martin and Bo Morrison, questions have been raised of underlying racism in the use of deadly force and the legal proceedings that followed. This particularly hits home in Wisconsin, where recently passed concealed carry laws are hotly debated.
Martin was walking in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., when neighborhood watch volunteer Goerge Zimmerman shot and killed him. Zimmerman has been charged with second degree murder, and the incident has sparked outrage over the apparent racial profiling that led up to the shooting. What is equally unnerving is that Florida’s laissez-faire gun laws allowed this racial intolerance to turn deadly.
Morrison was the first victim of Wisconsin’s recently established castle doctrine, which allows homeowners to use deadly force against an intruder. Morrison was at a party in a garage in Slinger, Wis., when the party was broken up by an angry father. He fled the scene hoping to escape a drinking ticket and tried to hide from police in the enclosed porch of a nearby house, where homeowner Adam Kind found, shot and killed him. The castle doctrine and self-defense laws have cleared Kind of any charges in the case.
Morrison was unarmed, hiding on the porch, with no intention of entering the home — he is simply another victim of a potentially harmless altercation turned deadly in the presence of firearms. Although in contrast to the Martin shooting, Kind seems to have been primarily concerned with defending his home — but it is clear that the situation did not warrant deadly force.
Kind fired one shot in the dark, so he never identified Morrison. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Identifying the target is a basic rule in firearms training,” a rule which Kind was apparently unaware of. While Kind faces no criminal charges, his decision to shoot is questionable and demonstrates both a lack of adequate training with firearms and a poor understanding of the sort of situation in which deadly force is necessary.
The shooting of Martin involved a gun owner with a concealed weapon who, in addition to being a suspected murderer, grossly misunderstood his legal rights to use a firearm. As reported by Thompson Reuters, Jon Gutmacher, an Orlando attorney who supports gun rights, said, “People think they know the law and find out they don’t know when a situation occurs and wind up getting in terrible trouble.” Not only do people like Zimmerman wind up in terrible trouble when they misunderstand gun laws — people like Martin end up tragically dead.
Wisconsin faces a similar problem with gun owner education. Applicants for concealed carry permits are required to take a two-hour gun safety class — that’s the extent of their necessary firearm training. James E. Causey wrote in the Journal Sentinel that he attended one of these classes, and described it as “the easiest class I ever took,” and added, “My main problem with the law … is that I think some of those applying for a permit don’t really understand the huge responsibility that goes along with not only carrying a gun but being in a situation in which they may have to pull the trigger.”
The Morrison and Martin cases have raised serious concerns that while conceal and carry laws allow ordinary citizens to carry guns, and castle doctrines authorize homeowners to shoot them, neither of these laws ensures that gun owners will know how to use a lethal weapon, or when they are authorized to do so. Causey identifies the problem with gun laws that has been painfully illuminated by the Martin and Morrison shootings, that there is a massive gap between owning and carrying a gun and knowing when and how to use it.
Brian Dorow, associate dean in the department of criminal justice at Waukesha County Technical College, told the Journal Sentinel that “once the bullet leaves the gun, you can’t take it back.” These experts in law enforcement understand that when carrying a firearm, it is important to know how to use it, but more important to know when not to use it.
As reported by the Huffington Post, the National Rifle Association maintains as a dogma that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The NRA ignores the fact that it is the combination of guns and people that is truly deadly, especially when gun owners are assured of their legal immunity. In Wisconsin, the law allows people to kill people with guns, but it doesn’t ensure that gun owners will be adequately trained and will use their guns in a responsible manner.
Charles Godfrey (email@example.com) is a sophomore majoring in math and physics.