Kill an innocent kid in America today and then walk

MIKE LITTWIN

May 26, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

In America, a man can shoot and kill a blameless kid, and a jury of his peers will let him walk.

This is what we've become.

A kid who did nothing wrong is shot dead. The jury says his killer is innocent.

You know the story. A Japanese exchange student visiting Baton Rouge, La., is looking for a Halloween party. He's lost. He rings on a doorbell, and the woman who answers immediately thinks she is being threatened by the 16-year-old kid, whose most threatening act is to be dressed in a John Travolta costume.

She calls her husband and tells him to bring his gun. He brandishes the gun and orders the kid to freeze, but the kid, who speaks little English, continues to approach. So the man -- a minister's son -- takes his Dirty Harry .44-caliber Magnum and blows the stranger away.

The kid dies. He dies not simply because he gets lost or because of a language problem or some cultural divide. He dies because, in America, when a stranger rings a doorbell, there can be a big gun waiting for him on the other side.

The kid dies. And the jury says that a man's home is his castle and that a stranger's ring on the doorbell is an implied threat to the fortress.

It's a violent time. And violence begets violence, not to mention .44 Magnums.

In Japan, where they have strict gun control, the citizens are outraged. They say America is an outlaw country. Well, Japan has its own problems. In Japan, a youngster can get crushed in the gate of a school because he's a minute late.

To tell you the truth, I don't care what the Japanese or anyone else think.

How about what we think?

We think we're scared to death. We're so scared that if we see a situation that we don't understand, we get our gun and drill holes in a stranger.

And the people on the jury say, "Yeah, we understand. We'd do the same thing. It's a dangerous world. Too bad about the kid. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."

There's an irony here. A terrible, tragic irony. And it doesn't matter which side of the gun-control issue you're on, either. It's still the same irony.

We are a violent country. You can argue whether guns kill people or people kill people, but nobody can argue that there's too much killing, and mostly with guns. And so, to protect ourselves, we buy our own guns.

In the year since the Los Angeles riots, as an example, more than 113,000 Los Angeles County residents have purchased guns.

They bought them so they'd feel safer. Here's the irony: They're not safer. In fact, studies suggest that every time you put a gun in your house, you've put yourself in more danger.

There's a famous paper of a few years back published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Two doctors made a statistical study of all firearm-related deaths in King County, Wash. (which includes Seattle) over a five-year period in the mid-'80s.

In that time, there were 398 firearm-related deaths in homes where guns were kept. Two -- just two -- of those deaths involved HTC an intruder shot while attempting to enter the house. In seven other cases, the shooter was judged to have acted in self-defense. The case of the Japanese exchange student would fall into that category.

Most (333) of the deaths were suicide. But of the 65 that weren't, only two involved strangers. Twenty-four involved friends or acquaintances. Thirty-six resided in the house. Three others were relatives visiting the house.

Here's a stat for you: There were 43 gun-related deaths -- suicides, criminal homicides and accidents -- for every incident of death involving self-protection.

The study didn't say how often a would-be burglar was chased off by a homeowner wielding a gun. Of course, it also didn't report the non-fatal incidents involving a gun in the house.

But ask any cop. He'll tell you that if a gun kept in the house is used, the shooting will most likely occur during an argument involving alcohol when the killer and the victim know each other.

The man who did the shooting in Baton Rouge was shattered by the incident. He had a gun; he panicked. Now, he says he'll have nothing more to do with guns. In a way, he's also a victim -- of the ever-escalating violence our nation refuses to address in any serious way.

We address crime by building more prisons. We address gun-related violence by buying more guns.

When do we figure out it's not working?

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