by Roger Canaff
For decades and maybe longer, gun rights enthusiasts have sought to end the gun control argument with the following statement: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
This is technically true. It is also meaningless.
Of course, guns don’t kill. And pencils don’t make spelling errors. So what?
Not a single assassin of a United States president has accomplished altering history by being a terrific knife wielder. James Earl Ray did not end the blessed life of Martin Luther King with a slingshot. John Lennon was not felled by a punch. James Brady would not have gone from a dynamic, affable new press secretary to a man still struggling with a disability had his attacker approached the side entrance of the Washington Hilton in 1981 with a baseball bat.
It’s also true that guns don’t have mystical powers over the human mind, seducing to reality their own use. Again, so what? It is undeniably true- and frankly common sense- that killing is more likely to happen when a loaded gun is within easy reach of a person familiar with its use. Police officers take their lives in greater numbers, it is believed by experts, at least in part because of the ready presence of guns. We in the anti-violence world know well that access to firearms increases the risk of intimate partner murder around five fold.
No, this isn’t because guns in these homes suddenly come alive like brooms in a Disney movie, begging to be used.
It’s because the handgun is an object as perfectly designed for killing other humans as a chess board is for chess. The opposable thumb and its meaty base folds securely around the grip. The index finger- the one we control with far greater dexterity than any other- slides against the trigger like a key in a lock. Propelling death at hundreds of feet per second is now a squeeze away. For millennia, killing was by necessity a contact sport. Beating, strangling, stabbing and other forms of inter-personal violence required a victim, in most cases, no further than arm’s length away. Guns changed all of that. Now death could be dealt from a distance, both physically and- inexorably- emotionally.
But handguns reduced it to little more than the dexterity and strength required to snap one’s fingers.
George Zimmerman, the apparent shooter of Trayvon Martin, carried a snub-nose 9mm pistol, very simple in operation and something my Virginia friends growing up would have called a “belly gun.” Five pounds of pressure are required to fire the thing and rip apart human tissue like hamburger. To maim. To paralyze. To kill. To alter not one life, but dozens and who knows how many more in the web that contains us all. If Trayvon Martin was to cure a disease, build an empire, or simply live happily and productively in the glow of his family’s love, we’ll never know. A compact, death-black device with a five pound trigger wiped that out like sunset does the day.
In Zimmerman’s shooting hand, I have no doubt it rested like a calming infant’s rattle.
Whether Zimmerman was remotely justified in using it is, apparently, still unknown. Was the child he killed truly an aggressor, or was it just the combination of the hoodie and the young man’s skin that prompted Zimmerman in some hateful, idiotic flash to provoke a confrontation and then create the “need” to kill? Zimmerman’s own ethnic background seems to be relevant to some, complicated apparently by his being not black but not quite white either. Personally I find the juxtaposition of skin color in this case to be gasoline on an already raging fire. But the reality of how Trayvon’s skin color likely did lead to his death is impossible to ignore. I cannot blame the millions out there who refuse to do so.
But for me, and for now, the misery of this situation comes down mostly to the demonic presence of a handgun in the hands of a pathetic rogue or worse. Zimmerman is by all appearances a character police officers know too well- the community watch vigilante with the itchy trigger finger. Maybe that’s why, for all the gun enthusiasts still defending it, Florida law enforcement officials find the “stand your ground” law pointless bravado waiting to become far, far worse.
Money in the hand of a fool simply disappears. A gun in the same hand changes everything.
Roger Canaff: Anti-Violence Advocate, Child Protection Specialist, Legal Expert Blog: WCSV (Women, Children, Sex, Violence: Outcry, Analysis, Discussion) www.rogercanaff.com