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Friday, February 22, 2013

America's Current Mass-Murder Prevention Method -- Luck

As so often happens with mass killings in America, time moves on and a horrible crime is forgotten. Maybe it's that there are just so many that it's impossible to keep track of them all, maybe we mentally block it out to keep ourselves from realizing the entire country's a war zone, or maybe we're just so damned tired of it all that we just want to stop thinking about. For whatever reason, a racist 2012 shooting spree in Tulsa, Oklahoma that left three black men dead and two wounded doesn't come up when we talk about mass killings in America. And that's a pity -- not only because the victims deserve to be remembered, but because the case is just so damned instructive. Especially when we look at what set off the gunmen -- Jake England and Alvin Watts -- on their rampage.

The Tulsa shooting spree took place around the second anniversary of England's father's shooting death. The man who shot his father is Pernell Demond Jefferson, who is black. England and Watts are described by authorities as white. England has Cherokee ancestry.

Jefferson is expected to stand trial for charges of attempted first-degree burglary and illegal possession of a firearm in connection with the incident. But he will not face murder charges because England's death was ruled a justifiable homicide by prosecutors under Oklahoma's "stand your ground" law.

So the "shoot first" legalized murder law is what started this whole thing. A "tough on crime" measure that -- like most "tough on crime" measures -- is simpleminded and poorly thought out and designed only to bring votes to fearmongers and demagogues, while selling guns for the special interests they represent. No one should be able to deliberately shoot and kill someone else, only to avoid trial in that killing. That's not how the justice system works. Self-defense is a legitimate and legal reason to commit homicide. If you killed someone because you had to, that should stand up in court. Instead, Oklahoma -- like too many states -- has this idiotic law that allows killers to just walk away, never resolving the issue or airing out the evidence. It just allows grudges to fester, fueled by the complete ignorance that comes from being denied a public hearing of the facts. I'm not excusing England or Watts, I'm just pointing out that Oklahoma's idiotic "stand your ground" law is more likely to make sick jerks like them even sicker. And it obviously made the community of Tulsa more dangerous, not safer.

But if "stand your ground" laws make people less safe, then a more recent case in Michigan proves that universal background checks increase public safety.


NBC News:

Federal agents are trying to determine how a suspected Ohio white supremacist with a felony conviction for manslaughter acquired a cache of 18 assault weapons and other firearms, along with high-capacity magazines and more than 40,000 rounds of ammunition, according to federal law enforcement officials and court documents reviewed by NBC News.

The storehouse of weapons was discovered late last month when FBI agents arrested Richard Schmidt, 47, the owner of a Bowling Green sporting goods store called Spindletop Sports Zone, on charges of marketing counterfeit goods -- such as football jerseys with NFL logos -- from China.

Although initially portrayed as a probe into the thriving international market for counterfeit clothing, the case took a surprising turn this week when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland unsealed search warrants and an indictment also charging Schmidt with illegal possession of firearms.

So the FBI discovered a felon white supremacist with an arsenal of assault weapons through the rigorous law enforcement technique known by the highly technical term, "sh*t luck." If Schmidt hadn't been stupid enough to sell counterfeit goods from a storefront, he'd still be out walking around and he'd still be in possession of a private arsenal.

And what would did he want with all those guns anyway? A followup story tells us Schmidt "was tracking African American and Jewish leaders in the Detroit area" and that agents found "a notebook in which Schmidt had listed the names, addresses and other personal information of Detroit area community leaders."

"The FBI averted a catastrophe in this case, there’s no doubt about it," Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. attorney in Cleveland, told NBC news.

The evidence points to another Tulsa was in the making -- or another Oak Creek, a recent racist shooting spree quickly fading from public memory. Schmidt's previous conviction was for "homicide after being convicted of killing a man and wounding two others in a shooting during a traffic stop," so he's not squeamish about using firearms to take lives. And he was in possession of "18 weapons that included AR-15 assault rifles, 9 mm Ruger and Sig Sauer pistols, shotguns, high-capacity magazines and more than 40,000 rounds of ammunition." He was also in possession of body armor. The man was clearly planning on going to war.

Federal law does not require such checks for private sales or gun show purchases. Seventeen states have mandated them for handgun purchases at gun shows, though Ohio is not among them. Only six states require background checks for all firearms purchases.

A new study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research has found that 80 percent of those convicted of gun crimes acquire their weapons through private sales – making it virtually impossible for federal agents to trace where they come from or who is providing them.

“There’s no documentation required for private transactions. So whatever occurs in that zone is invisible to us,” Charles Houser, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms National Tracing Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., said in an interview.

"Our current set of laws for how guns get out [in] the community has a lot of holes," Dettelbach told NBC. "It’s almost like Swiss cheese."

How long do you want to rely on "sh*t luck" and feel-good, but boneheaded and ineffective "shoot first" laws to prevent massacres? Because that was the only thing standing between Schmidt and the racist massacre he so clearly wanted to pull off. And what we're doing didn't work to prevent the other ones.

We need real prevention, not BS laws meant to frighten people into voting for charlatans.


[image sources Dept. of Justice, Flickr, Flickr]

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