A young African American man walks into a convenience store and emerges with Skittles and an iced tea. In our gun-saturated country that turns out to be an offense punishable by death.
In last Saturday's New York Times, columnist Charles Blow recounted the story of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old Florida kid who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain because he looked suspicious. The civilian shooter has not been charged with anything.
Blow does a good job of telling the story and exploring the questions about exaggerated fears about crime, racial profiling, and vigilante justice that it raises. But I think he misses the key point. The one about guns.
The shooter, a man named George Zimmerman, confronted Trayvon because he simply thought the kid looked "suspicious." For all the ugliness of racial profiling and the sheer paranoia of that, it would be nothing more if Zimmerman hadn't been carrying a 9 mm handgun. Somehow, one thing led to another, and Trayvon ended up dead.
Because of the gun.
Guns facilitate deadly violence. They might not create the fear, the crime, the anger or the depression that causes them to be used in over 9,000 homicides and even more suicides every year in America, but they make it all so much easier.
Are Germany, Britain, and Japan any less violent than America? Is the rate of depression any less? I don't think so. And yet Germany's gun murders are only 200 to 300 a year while Japan comes in at around 50 and Britain at 20.
And, for suicides in America, the handgun is the weapon of choice. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 46 Americans take their own lives with a gun every day. The authors pointed out that it was the ease of use of the gun itself that made many of these deaths possible, because the impulse to kill oneself is usually fleeting, and might not be carried out without the quick means of a firearm nearby.
The old NRA cliché that guns don't kill people just doesn't stand up to analysis. The prevalence of guns in America turns an ugly altercation or a deep moment of sadness into tragedy again and again. Just ask the parents of Trayvon Martin.