It looks like another horrifying weekend of gun violence in Montana has taken place. The Missoulian is reporting that a 17 year-old was killed by a gun owner in a Missoula garage Sunday morning and the Billings Gazette reports that a man “accidentally” shot a 19 year-old who was a guest at his home.
First, when you pull a trigger and shoot someone, no accident happened. The story notes that “the 19-year-old was being quiet so as not to wake anyone in the home, Curry said, and the homeowner mistook the man for an intruder and shot him.” That’s not an accident; that’s the work of someone who thinks that the right to own a gun doesn’t come with a corresponding obligation to use a gun sensibly. Just as someone who drank and drove a car injuring someone else would be charged with a felony, so should this home owner. Condoning such an irresponsible act as a mere “accident” will simply embolden other gun owners to fire first and investigate second in the future.
The details of the Missoula case are less clear at this time, but the homeowner was charged and arrested by Missoula police. Despite this, the rhetoric of “gun enthusiasts” on the Missoulian is falling into its typical pattern: blaming the victim of the shooting and assuming that the home owner had every right to do what he did. Commenter BJackson summarizes this view quite well. He writes:
All it takes is someone to penetrate your space and if you feel threatened, you can shoot to kill. It is now up to the prosecution to prove he didn’t feel threatened, Where is the heck is the idea come that they guy who lives there was committing a crime? You can bet, if I caught someone on my property in the early morning hours, I will feel threatened and I will shoot to kill the intruder.
And that’s what it comes down to really. Despite the macho posturing of gun nuts, at the root of their willingness to use deadly force is a deep-seated cowardice and insecurity. That the law emboldens these George Zimmermans and makes it so difficult to prosecute those who fire their weapons at other human beings is a travesty than too often ends in tragedy.
I know that it’s politically unpopular to oppose the right to bear arms, no matter how extremist that provision gets in state law, and I also know that we’re not likely to change the law anytime soon. The NRA and organizations like the Montana Shooting Sports Association have so badly distorted and demagogued the issue that no Republican can support even the most sensible of gun restrictions and Democrats often fall all over themselves to establish their pro-gun bona fides. The result? A legal climate where many presume that the shooting of children can either be called accidental or justified.
And that’s as horrifying as it is misguided.