Our friend Tom Gabor has just published an interesting and important perspective on how to think about gun violence which you can download and read right here. By training and academic experience, Tom’s a criminologist, but in this particular essay he moves into a wide range of issues having to do with both Constitutional and international laws.

              The article draws from many different sources and tries to answer the following question: Do Americans have the right to be safe in their communities? Obviously, with a gun-violence rate that is 7 to 20 higher than any other advanced country, it could be argued that Americans don’t really have such a right.

              Or at least if they do or should have a right to community safety, the 120,000 gun-deaths and injuries each year would indicate that this particular right is not being strictly or even loosely observed.

              Gabor begins his essay by noting that from at least the 17th Century, if not earlier, political philosophers and jurists declared that safety and security were the basis of the social contract which held society together and required governmental intervention whenever the contract got frayed or fell apart.

              The author then notes, and this is a very perceptive observation on his part, that whenever the issue of guns and safety is discussed, the pro-gun argument with its fidelity to the

2nd Amendment tends to win out. And this has been particularly the case since the 2008 Heller decision which, while it left room for the government to restrict gun ‘rights’ by keeping guns out of the ‘wrong’ hands (e.g., criminals, drug addicts, mentally ill, etc.) ultimately comes down as defining the ‘right’ to use a gun for self-defense as being more important than the ‘right’ to avoid getting shot while sitting in a classroom or walking down the street.

              But here is where Gabor’s attempt to find the ‘right’ to be protected by the state against violence caused by the use of guns hits a little snag. And the snag happens to be a rather unique legal and cultural issue in the United States, namely, the ‘right’ to self-defense.

              Ever country recognizes the notion that protecting yourself or others from a threat is consistent with the idea that we have a ‘right;’ to life, and Gabor notes the existence off this concept in international covenants as well. But the United States is the only country in he entire world whose legal system also allows its residents to respond to a perceived threat of injury by not backing away but standing in place and resisting the potential onslaught with force.

              More than half the 50 states have passed laws, called Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws, which basically say that if someone comes on your property without prior invitation or consent, that their presence is ipso facto proof that they might represent a threat which can be responded by you with lethal force.

              In 2015, a 50-year old Black man in St. Louis was sentenced to three years’ probation for killing a 13-year old kid because he believed that the teenager represented a threat to his life. He was sentenced because he killed the kid with an illegal gun. But under Missouri SYG law, he could not be convicted or even charged with murder or aggravated assault because the kid had come on his property to steal something out of the man’s car.

              Laws which allow Americans to pick up a gun and shoot someone who is considered a threat just because that individual has come on their property uninvited happen to be laws that are completely and totally inconsistent with the traditions and precedents that form the basis of our legal system, i.e., the Common Law. And such laws do not (read: not) exist in any other country, such as Australia or South Africa, whose legal systems derive from the Common Law.

              Guess what? At the same time that SYG law started spreading throughout the United States, pro-gun groups like the NRA and others also began successfully promoting laws which make it easier, indeed almost invite residents to walk around town with a gun. These laws, known as CCW laws, first started appearing in the 1980’s and now just about every state allows anyone who can legally own a gun to carry it on their person whether they feel threatened o not. In fact, next month the Supreme Court will hear a case which may determine whether the 2008 Heller decision grants Constitutional protection to carrying a gun outside the home.

              One other point about Gabor’s essay which needs to be considered as well, and that’s his assumption, shared by moist people, that our inner-city neighborhoods are places where so much violence occurs because such neighborhoods contain mostly residents who happen not just to be Black, but are also very poor. Gabor states it this way: “Violence is especially foreseeable in low income neighborhoods with persistently high levels of violence, poor public services, and policing that may not comply with international standards.”

              This connection between poverty and violence has a long pedigree both in research and common belief. Is it really true? Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for the sake of a more realistic view of the endemic issue of racism in the United States, it may not be so true. Here’s an article which posits that race causes class, rather than the other way around. It is based on many community studies which find Blacks lagging behind Whites even when the socio-economic circumstances of the two races are the same.

              On the other hand, if you take the trouble to read Gabor’s essay all the way to the end, you’ll discover that the very last sentence of this refreshing and perceptive piece says this: “our national and state governments need to be held accountable when public safety is subordinated to the interests of a minority of citizens to own and carry a wide array of weapons, including those designed for military uses.”

              The last five words of Gabor’s piece are the most important thing he has to say. This country, our country suffers more than 120,000 conscious acts of gun deaths and gun injuries every year because we give folks free access to weapons of war.

              That’s right – all those semi-automatic pistols made by Glock, Sig, Smith & Wesson, et. al., and all those semi-automatic assault rifles made by the same and other gun companies are designed and carried by our troops and the military of other countries in the field.

              We don’t have a ‘problem’ of gun violence in this country. We have a problem because we define ‘sporting’ guns in a way that has no reality behind the definition at all.

              I invite Tom Gabor to respond to what I have said above, and I’ll be happy to post his response as a column on this blog.