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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bullet the Blue Skies of Appalachia?

I don't live in Florida, and I never have. I confess to being totally ignorant about the normality of life there. I do understand crime is a major concern in Florida. People need to protect themselves. I believe in the "castle doctrine," which essentially means that homeowners have no duty or requirement to retreat in their home if they are attacked within it. -- any intruder should have the expectation of death. 

According to CQ Press and their annual State Crime Rankings (2010), Florida ranks as the sixth most dangerous state behind Nevada, New Mexico, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The rankings compare the the 50 states against the national average for six crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft. Florida ranks as the 12th most dangerous state in the category of murder.

I have been trying to keep up on the Trayvon Martin shooting and George Zimmerman's arrest. One of the most debatable parts of the incident involves Florida's "stand your ground" legislation: Florida Statute 776.013 (3). It basically extends the castle doctrine to all places beyond the home. Retreat in order to avoid a confrontation becomes unnecessary even in a public place.

Florida Statute 776.013 (3) states:

"A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

Attorney Mark NeJame, CNN legal analyst and contributor has practiced law, mainly as a criminal defense attorney, for more than 30 years. In a recent report, NeJame states that when guns are permitted in every public place and are mixed with "obtusely written" statutes that contain "a confusing blend of subjective and objective standards" such as Florida's 776.013 (3), a puzzling standard of behavior occurs -- basically a "recipe for disaster" concerning gun use. He thinks
gun laws such as the "stand your ground" law need to be re-evaluated and addressed responsibly.
(Mark NeJame, "A Deadly Combination -- Guns and 'Stand Your Ground,'" CNN Opinion, April 30 2012)

NeJame gives the following hypothetical situation as evidence for his position:

"The way the statute is written, an individual who observes a fistfight could conceivably shoot and kill the dominator in the fight if they reasonably believed that person was going to cause 'great bodily harm' to the other.

"Even if the two combatants knew that the fight was nothing more than a 'good ol' boy' disagreement, the way the statute is written could allow a gun to be used if the observer reasonably and actually believed that great bodily harm could occur."

NeJame also asks the reader to consider another scenerio.

"Consider another gun-toting observer of the hypothetical fist fight, who is an enemy of one of the combatants.

"He could easily hide behind the claim that he reasonably believed that the other combatant was going to cause great bodily harm if the fight continued. The shooter could have every evil motive in the world, but so long as he stood behind the story that he reasonably believed the other person could suffer great bodily harm or death, then he could conceivably walk."

Last night, I watched a National Geographic special about girl gang members in Los Angeles. According to CAL/GANG, a statewide database maintained by the California Department of Justice, the city of Los Angeles is home to 463 gangs with 39,032 members — about the same number as residents of Encino. 463 gangs!

The stories of gun violence -- shootings and murder -- made me sick. The gun-toting bravado displayed by youth was especially disturbing. Their disregard for life outside of "the neighborhood" seemed to be inborn. With drug habits, terrible home lives, and an affinity for weapons, gang members typically took their anger into the streets purposely straying from home grounds into dangerous enemy gang territories. They appeared to abide by some twisted notion of being warriors just "protecting their turf" and loyally enforcing acts of necessary revenge.

I wondered how any section of the United States of America could become so obsessed with violence, guns, and hatred. When did the violence become so widespread and common to L.A. inhabitants? Why would anyone want to live with these conditions? How could a neighborhood in the States become a place where a stranger or a foreigner is fair game for a bullet? Why can't law enforcement together with right-thinking citizens control the criminal activity?

Quickly, my thoughts turned to home -- Scioto County, Ohio. I thought about similar violence, crime, and death on a smaller scale here. Then, I considered our sparse population and the high per capita threat in my own backyard. Could Scioto (as a microcosm) accurately represent how the gangland mentality got its roots?

After all, we live in a drug pipeline and have a bad drug problem. We have a fairly strong disparaging attitude about our way of life. We are largely convinced no one cares about our section of the country.We suffer from gang activity spilling over from larger cities such as Detroit and Columbus. We have a strong propensity to be very territorial. And, certainly, we have a population in need of money and better education.

So, I thought about what I would do to insure the relative safety and tranquillity of my home. Of course, if necessary, I would protect my own "castle" with deadly force. Guns are an important means of self defense.

But also, I would willingly fight more pro-actively to keep my community from becoming a gangland. I would dedicate myself to working within the boundaries of the law and within the guarantees of human dignity to prevent further violence. I love my birthplace and I would concentrate my efforts on mobilizing citizens to take better protective measures and to show more nonaggressive resistance to factors that contribute to a gang mentality. I would ask them all to "get off their asses" and defend our traditional Appalachian way of life with their mass support.

What if the area became overrun by gangs?

Well, when toting a gun became a necessity for walking my streets or going to my stores, I would gather my family and leave. When guns regularly showed up in my grandchildren's schools, I would gather my family and leave. When gangs fired shots at me or at mine for merely driving through their neighborhoods, I would gather my family and leave. One personal tragedy would be too much to pay for arming myself with an assault rifle and stubbornly combatting others in a county ruled by gangsters.

My U.S. citizenship guarantees me the following assurances in the Preamble of the Constitution -- to establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It is time for us to demand needed attention to these concerns. These things provide the bedrock for all laws and for all necessary behavior.

I remember the days of civil rights struggles in the South when the Federal Government provided at least a reasonable expectation of muscle to quell racism and related criminal activity. I don't live in Los Angeles or in Florida; however, I don't want to live anywhere where citizens with guns must enforce the laws of the land. We are guaranteed adequate protection by our government, and I expect to receive it.

I do know that if I don't call upon those in charge to clear my community of crime, I have abused my responsibility. I fear too many in Scioto County believe their own individual trust and will thwarts evil. Believe me, your couched good intentions will not. If you don't believe me, I can take you to the grave sites of many who have already given their lives to the forces of evil. Together, we can reverse this terrible tide.

I see the beginnings of even darker days here unless we form united, powerful movements to resist criminal activities. No, I don't want my young sons and daughters sporting guns like fashion accessories and shooting bad guys. Instead, I want them to demand their rights to safety and become involved, vocal citizens and social activists. Excuse me an expletive or two here but I must say this in a vernacular common to thugs:  "Fuck gangs, their guns and their violence. And, fuck any gangsta dominance in my beloved Ohio hills." I hope you feel the same.

We do not need to become vigilantes. Instead, we need to raise our own voices and learn the necessity of perseverance. If you must complain and do nothing about "poor little Scioto," you become part of the problem, not part of the solution. 

Guns? NeJame used the old cliche to illustrate a simple point: "If one brings a gun to a fistfight, then the fight becomes a gunfight." I, for one, don't want to engage in firefights in my walk on Coles Boulevard. Yet, I, for one, expect people to help prevent any such violence before it happens by recognizing the present threats and taking sensible, appropriate actions that save lives.

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