This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Ask George Zimmerman – if you can find him – if he still thinks it was a great idea to pack heat while doing neighborhood watch patrols in Sanford, Fla. This wannabe police officer may be rethinking the whole idea of looking for trouble with a lethal weapon at hand.
Witnesses have given wildly conflicting accounts of just how Zimmerman came to shoot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month. Whatever happened, the confrontation ended with Martin dead and Zimmerman despised by millions as a racist gunslinger.
He may never be arrested or convicted of anything. But he’s won immortality on the Internet, and a stigma will follow him for life.
The theme of “guns in the hands of foolish people” plays out every day, everywhere in this country. In Pierce County Superior Court, a man and a woman have just been charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of 3-year-old Julio Segura-McIntosh – the woman’s son – in a car two weeks ago.
It’s a pathetic story. Police say the man was carrying a handgun with a legal permit; he shoved the weapon under the seat when he got out to buy gas at a Tacoma convenience store. The woman, reportedly worried that her son might get the 9mm pistol, reportedly retrieved it and put it under her own seat.
Then, police say, she left the car with the gun unattended. The 3-year-old got it and accidentally shot himself in the head.
The criminal justice system will have to decide how culpable the man and woman are. They should be held to account in some way.
Subject to reasonable restrictions, gun ownership is a constitutional right in the United States. But this particular right comes with an exceptionally high burden of responsibility. Many people can’t handle it.
Police officers receive exhaustive training in the use of their firearms, including emphatic lessons on when they shouldn’t draw or fire their handguns. They’re taught techniques for de-escalating confrontations. Contrary to the Hollywood version of police work, they rarely fire them at criminals.
Very few private citizens have received anything remotely comparable to that training. Responsible firearms instructors teach gun owners to go out of their way to avoid situations that might escalate into violence.
Yet some civilians – Zimmerman seems to be a case in point – are foolishly emboldened when they carry guns. They walk in dark places they’d prudently avoid if unarmed. Some fantasize about showdowns with “bad guys.” (In their own minds, they’re always the good guys.) A few act on their fantasies, with tragic consequences.
Others are careless about handling handguns, devices engineered to devastate the human body.
Police officers know that their weapons can shoot both ways if they aren’t handled within precisely defined restrictions. Civilians often don’t have a clue. Anyone who thinks a concealed gun can be carried casually as a proof against risk should study the fates of George Zimmerman and 3-year-old Julio.