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“When We Do Unto Others”: Good News, Maybe; Firing Squads Are Not Tourist Attractions

We should have seen this coming, I suppose.

We are, after all, the can-do country. Nobody is going to tell us what we can and cannot do, even as they make it impossible for us to do what we used to do before they said we couldn’t do it anymore. If this sounds a bit muddled, welcome to the desperate illogic behind our devotion to capital punishment.

It turns out the collective conscience of the civilized world does not share our affection for government-sanctioned murder. We don’t call it that, of course. We refer to it as the “death penalty,” as if calling murder something other than murder makes it all right when we do unto others precisely what we’ve insisted they shouldn’t have done to someone else.

For many years, our weapon of choice has been lethal injection, a deadly cocktail of paralytic and anesthetic drugs, combined with potassium chloride. The idea is to make death look peaceful so that no one involved in the process has to go home feeling like he or she just killed somebody.

Over time, prisons have to come to depend on third-party providers for their lethal injections. Until recently, that is, when suppliers announced they would no longer provide the primary anesthetic for executions. So now, here we are, facing a nationwide shortage of drugs needed to do the deadly deed.

Here comes Utah, where the state legislature has just received the governor’s blessing to bring back firing squads if lethal drugs aren’t available.

A modern-day firing squad is not the stuff of old movies, where the condemned man stood spur-to-spur and ramrod straight, puffing on a last cigarette dangling from his lips. Associated Press reporter Brady McCombs describes with horrifying detail just how these executions unfold in Utah.

The prisoner is strapped to a chair with a target pinned over his heart.

Let’s all take a moment and imagine that.

About 25 feet away, five shooters hide behind a wall and slide their .30-caliber rifles through slots. The gunmen are volunteers. As McCombs reported, so many gunmen volunteer that priority goes to those from the area where the crime was committed. Sort of like squatter’s rights, with ammo.

One of the guns is loaded with a blank. This apparently is meant to protect any shooter later seized by conscience over his eagerness to volunteer to kill an unarmed man strapped to a chair with a target pinned over his heart. Nothing shoos away a dark moment of the soul like the reassurance that we will never know for sure if our bullet blew up the heart of a fellow human.

Utah State Rep. Ray Paul sponsored the bill to bring back the firing squad. He assured the Associated Press last year that this isn’t nearly as awful as it sounds to those whose own hearts fibrillate at the thought of a person strapped to a chair with a target over his heart. Here, in the United States of America.

Paul’s advice: Settle down, all of you.

“The prisoner dies instantly,” he said. “It sounds draconian. It sounds really bad, but the minute the bullet hits your heart, you’re dead. There’s no suffering.”

Lest he sound callous, he added this: “There’s no easy way to put somebody to death, but you need to be efficient and effective about it. This is certainly one way to do that.”

(Psst, Team Paul: You really need to work on messaging.)

There’s a glimmer of hope for those who oppose this barbaric practice.

It’s called tourism.

Consider the following sample of headlines on Wednesday, March 25.

The Salt Lake Tribune: “Does firing squad law tarnish Utah’s image?”

ABC News: “Critics worry firing squad law will tarnish Utah’s image.”

U.S. News and World Report: “Critics worry decision to bring back firing squad as execution backup will hurt Utah’s image.”

Dare I suggest a theme here?

Could it be that people who like to swoop down glistening ski slopes and explore the cavernous wonders of nature aren’t keen on states with firing squads manned by an overabundance of volunteer gunmen?

Might they might even take their billions of tourism dollars elsewhere?

David Corsun is director of the University of Denver’s Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management. He told AP — go AP, by the way — that large organizations tend to avoid states that are drawing flak for recently passed laws. I may enjoy a little too much his conclusion about Utah’s post-firing squad tourism prospects: “Unless it’s Smith and Wesson,” he said, “I don’t think they are going to be racing to that controversy.”

So, maybe—just maybe—the one thing that can stop Utah’s firing squads before they start is the almighty dollar.

As motives go, not particularly inspiring, but let’s commiserate another day.

 

By:Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and an Essayist for Parade Magazine; The National Memo, March 26,

March 27, 2015 Posted by | Death Penalty, Lethal Injections, Utah | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Killer Who Supports Gun Control”: We Parade Through Life To The Relentless Drumbeat Of Death

A year ago, America was shocked by the murder of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But momentum to take action has faded, and we still lose that many lives to gun violence every eight hours on average.

The price of our gun policy can be seen in this breathtaking statistic: More Americans have died from guns here in the United States since 1970 (nearly 1.4 million) than American soldiers have died in all the wars in our country’s history over more than 200 years (about 1.2 million).

Those gun killings have been committed by people like John Lennon (his real name, but no relation to the Beatles star), who, in 2001, used an assault rifle to shoot an acquaintance dead in a quarrel over drugs. Lennon is now locked up at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, N.Y., and he underscores that while people kill people, so do guns.

“I do take responsibility for the murder; I’m sorry for taking his life, and all the life he could have had,” Lennon writes in an essay that he sent me out of the blue and that I’ve published on my blog. “But without a gun, I would not have killed.”

Lennon says that only “that perfect killing machine” of a gun assured that the murder would succeed.

“Could I have stabbed him?” he adds. “Strangled him? Bludgeoned him? If I had done so and he hadn’t died, why would that have made me less culpable than I am now, a man who swiftly and cowardly shot another man to death? A killer nonetheless, I hash these things out, in my head, in my cell, in Attica serving 28 years to life.”

Lennon does not deny that people will still try to kill each other without guns. Indeed, he knows that firsthand, for he writes about being the target of a revenge attack:

“He sneaked upon me in the prison yard like I sneaked upon his friend in a Brooklyn street. When I turned, I saw his arm swing for my neck. I weaved. Then I felt the piercing blows, as he gripped my shirt and dug into my side. Pressured by the blood-thirsty crowd, he stabbed me six times because I shot his friend to death. The ice pick didn’t do the job, though. He got away with it because we were in a blind spot of the yard, and I never told on him. Prison ethics. While my assailant’s intent was clear, the weapon he had access to was insufficient. Therefore I lived.”

“It’s clear that the only reason I’m alive is because my assailant didn’t have his weapon of choice,” he adds. “Can you imagine if we had access to guns in prison?”

Lennon says that he has been tempted to commit suicide but that hanging himself — the best option in prison — is grim and difficult. So he settles for living. Indeed, he notes the irony that it is only because he is in a safe refuge without guns that he has not been murdered or killed himself; at large, he believes he would be dead.

In quoting a murderer and publishing an essay by him on my blog, I’m not diminishing his crime or romanticizing it. But Lennon speaks a blunt truth that Washington politicians too often avoid.

“I’m all for the market system,” Lennon says, “but when the products are killing machines, why shouldn’t we tighten measures to keep guns out of the hands of people like me?”

He’s right. Take cars, which are also potentially lethal instruments ubiquitous in America. We’ve undertaken a remarkable half-century effort to make automobiles far, far safer — and that is precisely the model for what we should do with guns. We’ve introduced seat belts, air bags, prominent brake lights and padded dashboards. We’ve cracked down on drunken drivers, improved road layouts and railings, introduced graduated licenses for young drivers and required insurance for drivers.

The upshot is that we have reduced the vehicle fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by more than 80 percent — so that firearms now claim more American lives each year than vehicles.

We need to approach gun safety in the same meticulous way we approach safety in motor vehicles and so many other aspects of life: It’s ridiculous that a cellphone can require a code to use, but a gun doesn’t.

One of the heroes at Sandy Hook was Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher who was killed while trying to hide and protect her students. It would be nice if Washington could show a fraction of that courage, but instead, on this issue of guns, politicians display paralysis and fecklessness. So, as Lennon writes, and he should know: “we parade through life to the relentless drumbeat of death.”

 

By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 14, 2013

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“These [Expletives] Always Get Away”: George Zimmerman “Gets Away” With Gunplay Yet Again

Once again, a 911 call to police involving George Zimmerman sends chills down the spine. This time it’s Shellie Zimmerman, calling the cops on her estranged husband, the killer of Trayvon Martin who was acquitted of second-degree murder charges in July. And if you have followed the Zimmerman case as closely as I have the five-minute call and the aftermath will give a sickening sense of deja vu.

“[H]e’s in his car,” Shellie tells police. “And he continually has his hands on his gun and he keeps saying, ‘Step closer.” He’s just threatening all of us with his firearm — and he’s going to shoot us.” She tells the dispatcher that George “accosted my father” and “punched my dad in the nose.” In addition, he “took my iPad out of my hands and smashed it.”

As scary as that sounds, it’s what Shellie says next that is frightening. “I’m really, really afraid,” she said. “I don’t know what he’s capable of. I’m really, really scared.” At one point, she yells at her father to “get back inside; George might start shooting at us.”

Listening to the call, my thoughts went to Witness No. 9 in the Zimmerman case. She was the relative who called the Sanford Police Department just days after Zimmerman killed Trayvon on Feb. 26, 2012. During the call, she accused Zimmerman of being a racist she said,  “He would start something. He’s a very confrontational person. It’s in his blood. Let’s just say that.”

The punch to Shellie’s father’s nose reminded me of the altercation between Zimmerman and Trayvon. Remember, Zimmerman said Trayvon “sucker punched” him in the nose before the tussle that led to the unarmed 17-year-old’s death. And George’s counter-claim that Shellie was the aggressor today at her parents’ home in Lake Mary, Fla., is a near-replay of what happened in Aug. 2005. Back then, Zimmerman’s former fiance sought a restraining order against him because of domestic violence. So, he sought a restraining order against her in return.

Since Zimmerman was acquitted in July, he has been in the news for touring the headquarters of the manufacturer of the gun he used to kill Trayvon and for two speeding violations. He was let off with a warning each time. Today, Zimmerman was not arrested today, but he was questioned by police. And because Shellie and her father have declined to press charges against Zimmerman, he was free to go. “We have no victim, no crime,” Lake Mary police chief Steve Bracknell said.

The night Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon he called the non-emergency line at the Sanford, Fla., police department. “These [expletive], they always get away,” he said. Just a little bit of history repeating, I suppose.

 

By: Jonathan Capehart, The Washington Post, September 9, 2013

September 10, 2013 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Gun Violence | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It Was A Bad Bill”: A Step Forward, Florida To Hold Hearings On Stand Your Ground Law

Florida House of Representatives Speaker Will Weatherfold (R) announced on Friday that Florida legislators will hold hearings in the fall concerning the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, which allows people to use deadly force in self-defense when they believe their life is at risk.

The announcement comes nearly a month after a not-guilty verdict was reached in the George Zimmerman trial. Two jurors stated that because of the Stand Your Ground law, they had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman, who fatally shot unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin.

After the acquittal, Martin’s parents were joined by civic leaders, students, and political figures — including President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder — in urging Florida to review the law.

“Across Florida, representatives are receiving calls, letters, visits and emails from constituents with diverse opinions on ‘Stand Your Ground,’” Weatherfold said in his announcement.

He also asked: “Does the law keep the innocent safer? Is it being applied fairly? Are there ways we can make this law clearer and more understandable?”

These are the same questions being asked across Florida and the nation by those who fear that the law only protects a few privileged groups of people.

Critics argue that the law is not applied fairly across the board, and also allows anyone who deems another person threatening – even if only because of race or gender – to use lethal force against that person.

Race also plays a significant role in how a person is prosecuted in the context of the law.

A national Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday found that most voters support the Stand Your Ground laws, but that gender, race, and ideology divide Americans on the question of whether to retreat or use deadly force in self-defense. The poll also found that a majority of white voters and men support the laws, black voters generally oppose them, and women are more evenly divided.

Just a year ago, Representative Dennis Baxley (R-FL) told MSNBC that since the Stand Your Ground law went into effect in 2005, Florida has seen a drop in violent crime. In an interview with PBS Newshour, Baxley added that he thought the law “has saved thousands of people’s lives.”

Crime rates in Florida had been declining years before Stand Your Ground took effect, however, and there is no way to prove the law is the reason behind the decline.

Others contend that “justifiable” deaths have actually increased since Stand Your Ground was implemented. Economist Mouhcine Guettabi, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, conducted a study by taking data from the 29 states that do not have “stand your ground” laws, and “weighted key factors like personal income, population density, percentages of white, black, Hispanic and Asian residents, and the crime rate.”

At the end of his study, Guettabi found that he could attribute 158 more deaths per year since the passage of Stand Your Ground in Florida; that number dropped to 144 when excluding the 14 accidental gun deaths.

Guettabi concluded that “crime rates did not go up or down after the law was added,” but “gun deaths were higher than they would have been without ‘stand your ground.’”

Former Florida Senator Les Miller has now come forward to say that he regrets voting in favor of the law and added: “It was a bad bill.”

In July, protesters met with Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) to discuss the law. Once the meeting was over, Scott told the protesters that he supported the bill and would not call a special session. Instead, Scott called for a day of prayer that following Sunday. Scott went on to urge protesters and critics of the law to call their local legislators and provide examples of why they believe the law has the potential to result in more violence.

Chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee Matt Gaetz (R) responded to Weatherford’s announcement by firmly stating, “I don’t intend to move one damn comma on the ‘stand your ground’ law. I’m fully supportive of the law as it’s written.”

Additionally, Gaetz claimed “any aberrational circumstances that have resulted are due to errors at the trial court level.”

Senate President Don Gaetz (R), the chairman’s father, has also maintained his support for the law.

Still, protesters are optimistic about the hearings.

Philip Agnew, head of demonstration group Dream Defenders, said, “It’s a critical step. We’re excited about having an open debate.”

Weatherford has not yet set a formal date for the hearings or stated how long they are expected to last.

 

By: Elissa Gomez, The National Memo, August 5, 2013

August 6, 2013 Posted by | Stand Your Ground Laws | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Public Ninth Amendment Fund?”: Ohio PAC, “We’re Buying George Zimmerman A New Gun And We Need Your Help”

The Buckeye Firearms Association, an Ohio-based political action committee, has issued a startling statement in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial: “We’re buying ZIMMERMAN a NEW GUN – We need your help.”

The PAC is in fact not just buying Zimmerman a new gun, but asking the public for donations — “$100 … $50 … $25 … even just $10” – to fund the replacement of his “firearm, holster, and other gear.”

The statement even reminds readers that Zimmerman – who stood trial for the fatal shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida – has “no current source of income.”

And last week, conservative author Brad Thor used Twitter to say that he would buy Zimmerman a new gun and “as much ammunition as he wants.”

The offers come after both Thor and the pro-gun group expressed their disagreement with the Department of Justice’s decision to put a hold on all evidence in the case, including the gun that he used to kill Martin, until it can determine whether or not to charge Zimmerman with violating Martin’s civil rights.

The Buckeye Firearms Foundation has now established what it calls the “Zimmerman Second Amendment Fund,” arguing that the fund is “about more than mere principle. …Gun owners must stand together and refuse to allow an injustice like this to go unanswered.”

The article also adds: “Zimmerman and his family now face daily threats on their lives. More than ever, he has a right to defend himself against those who would seek to do him harm.”

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “Public Ninth Amendment Fund” to protect those of us who have to share the streets with a gun-toting murderer while still being told we have the right to life.

 

By: Elissa Gomez, The National Memo, July 22, 2013

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Constitution | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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