“The good people in this world are very far from being satisfied with each other and my arms are the best peacemaker.”
—Samuel Colt, 1852
I have a gun. It’s a .32 caliber pistol that sits in a box in a closet. I got it when my father died. He had three guns and that one came to me. I’ve never shot it. Never even loaded the clip or put a bullet in the chamber. Every few years I pull it out and look at it. More than anything else, it just reminds me of dad.
Other than that, I choose not to participate in American gun culture. Whether it’s about race or any other reason, people use guns way too often to resolve a problem.
If someone came banging on my door in the middle of the night, I doubt I’d even remember that I have it. I would be more inclined to reach for the telephone than that gun.
The only time I remember dad firing a gun is on New Year’s Eve when he would shoot it into the air at midnight to celebrate the New Year. Lots of folks like to get their guns out and shoot them on New Year’s Eve. Ironically, the other thing people like to do on New Year’s Eve is get really drunk. That’s a great combination.
We know that shooting guns into the air on New Year’s Eve is a very bad idea. And when it comes down to it, there are plenty of things people do with guns that are bad ideas.
For instance, when Theodore Wafer shot 19-year-old Renisha McBride on his Dearborn Heights porch Nov. 2 — it was a very bad idea.
Most folks know that McBride, a black woman, was out drinking that night and hit a parked car sometime after 1 a.m. in Detroit, near the Dearborn Heights border. Apparently a witness described her as “confused.” A couple of hours later she was shot in the face and died on Wafer’s front porch in Dearborn Heights. Wafer, a 54-year-old white man, called 911 at 4:40 a.m. and said, “I just shot somebody on my front porch with a shotgun, banging on my door.”
Other than that, the public knows little. I’ve heard some reports that say he shot her through a locked screen door. I’ve heard that Wafer said that the gun went off “accidentally.” That will all come out in the trial.
The killing hit a nerve in the black community and there has been a public outcry about it. Many have compared the killing of McBride to that of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old in Florida who was gunned down by George Zimmerman in 2011.
The fact that an unarmed black person who was apparently doing nothing wrong was shot by a white person in a state with a stand-your-ground law has folks drawing parallels between the two incidents.
There are similarities and differences between the two killings. The overarching similarity is the American dependence on a gun to resolve a problem; it’s fairly commonplace in this country.
According to information on the website of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, on average 32 people are murdered with guns each day in the United States; 140 more are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room; 51 people kill themselves with a gun; and 45 are shot or killed in a gun accident. That’s every day.
Americans, more than any other people, resolve conflicts with a gun. According to numbers published in the Washington Post, there are 270 million civilian guns owned in the United States, far more than in any other country.
“When people get these weapons, they want to use them,” says Ron Scott, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. The coalition has a program called Detroit Peace Zones for Life that works to defuse conflicts in neighborhoods before they escalate to violence.
In a country where gun violence is common, some of it is going to be racially motivated. But don’t get all twisted up about the race part and forget about the gun part. The National Rifle Association, one of the main defenders of Americans’ right to own and carry firearms, argues that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
If that’s the case, we need to keep a closer eye on people with guns. Take, for instance, George Zimmerman. Since his acquittal in the Martin killing, Zimmerman has been out of control. He famously toured the factory of the company that made the gun he used to kill Martin. That’s one hell of a way to say, “I really didn’t mean to kill Trayvon.”
His now estranged wife called 911 claiming he was threatening her and her father with a gun. He hung a bullet-riddled target on his in-laws’ home.
Most recently, he’s been charged with domestic violence against his girlfriend. When she made her 911 call (is this getting repetitive?) she said, “He’s got a gun.” Last week, Zimmerman was charged with a felony for domestic violence battery and criminal mischief in which he allegedly pointed a shotgun at her. Now, at long last, somebody took the gun out of his hand. A judge in Florida made it a condition of Zimmerman’s bail that he “not possess weapons.”
In Dearborn Heights, it’s a different story. Wafer did not stalk McBride, she showed up on his doorstep. Which I’m pretty sure is not a killing offense, although Samuel Colt may have a differing opinion. Wafer does not seem to have a history of incidents involving the police and has not displayed the kind of arrogant disregard for others that Zimmerman has. However, Wafer used his gun to resolve a situation that ended in someone’s death. That’s bad enough.
“This person [Wafer] was in a safe situation,” says Scott. “He opened the door and shot her. It’s not racial profiling; it’s human profiling. He decided to shoot a human being.”
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy will sort it all out and turn it over to a jury. While others cried racism and made pronouncements, Worthy investigated and pressed charges. “We do not believe he acted in lawful self-defense,” Worthy said during a Nov. 14 news conference.
I don’t think “stand your ground” is going to be an issue here. There are certainly going to be racial issues as we go forward. The racial makeup of the jury will face intense scrutiny. And regardless of the verdict, there will be racial finger-pointing from the losing side.
McBride’s killing is a terrible tragedy. But Detroiters shouldn’t point fingers and scream about it. Four days after McBride was killed, there was a shooting outside a barbershop in Detroit. Three people were killed and seven others injured. Nobody’s marching for them.
“If we are going to talk about diminishment of the significance of black life, of human life, the overall pervasive violence, we have to look at those two shootings as part of the same problem,” says Scott.
That would be guns and how we use them.