Carol Costello: For some who feel disrespected in today's America, pulling a gun is a response
She asks: Should gun owners have to demonstrate awareness of the risks?
Editor’s Note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN’s “Newsroom” each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Feel disrespected? Pull a gun. Open fire. That’ll teach ‘em.
It’s become the norm in the United States.
“We don’t treat guns like they’re instruments of death in this country.” That comes from a man who knows. Lonnie Phillips lost his daughter, Jessica, to the monster who opened fire at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. James Holmes killed Jessica, 11 others, and injured 70 more in 2012.
Phillips blames the man who pulled the trigger that July day, but he, a gun owner himself, also blames a gun culture that’s out-of-control.
“We like to consider ourselves responsible gun owners,” he told me. “But it wasn’t always like that with me. I’ve had guns. I was raised in Louisiana, Lake Charles. My father had a gun, he carried it around in a glove box. One time somebody cut him off. He jumped out of the car, grabbed his gun, ran up to the window. The guy looked at him, flipped out his badge, and said, ‘Red, if you don’t put that gun away, you’re going to jail. Get back in your car.’ That was it. How cavalier was that?”
Phillips sued ammunition dealers over his daughter’s murder and lost. But, his words still resonated.
Years ago, I interviewed a young gang member. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit, in a juvenile detention center. He was a little guy, accused of murdering an un-armed man. He showed zero remorse. I asked him what made him so tough.
“My little friend,” he told me.
He was referring to his gun. I can still hear the tone of his voice. Arrogant. Sadly, the way this violent teenager described his gun is not unusual. Even some police officers use their guns to prove how tough they are. Just this week a Medford, Massachusetts, police detective Stephen LeBert – out of uniform, and off duty – stopped a driver who made a wrong turn in a traffic circle. The driver, unaware the detective was a police officer, was slow to obey the order.
“I’ll blow a hole right through your (expletive) head,” the detective shouted. “You’re lucky I’m a cop because I’d be beating the (expletive) out of you right now.”
Det. LeBert was placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation.
But, he is not alone in his gun machismo.
A few weeks ago, in Florida, a road rage incident turned deadly. Both drivers used their cell phones to call 911 to report the other. But, one of those drivers, Robert Doyle, had a gun in his car.
“They’re following me to my house,” Doyle told the 911 dispatcher. “The guns are already out.” And, he added, they are “cocked and locked.”
Doyle made the decision to drive home instead of driving to the nearest police station. After all, he had a gun – and he used it at the end of his driveway. Doyle opened fire and killed Candelerio Gonzalez, the man who he claimed tormented him on the road.
While there are differing witness accounts as to which man was the aggressor, Doyle is now charged with second-degree murder.
I can cite so many of these cases. There’s the retired cop in Wesley Chapel, Florida, who pulled a gun in a movie theater after an argument over texting. He killed a 43-year-old man who allegedly threw popcorn in his face. The case has yet to go to trial.
And there are countless others. It’s why I raised my eyebrows when former Texas governor – and presidential hopeful – Rick Perry suggested we ought to be allowed to take our guns to the movies.
“If we believe in the Second Amendment,” he said, “then we believe in peoples’ right to protect themselves and defend themselves, and their families.”
Yes, we do. But, I can’t escape the fact so many people who own guns don’t respect what guns can do.
According to Everytown.org, 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings between December 2012 and December, 2013. About two-thirds of those deaths took place in a home or vehicle that belonged to the victim’s family.
This year, as of July 27, 2015, there have been 1,056 accidental shootings and counting. Gun violence dropped precipitously in the 1990s with the end of the crack epidemic, but it remains at unacceptably high levels.
Shouldn’t gun owners be required to demonstrate, in some way, that they are aware of the consequences of using such a powerful weapon? Or at least demonstrate they know how to wield a gun?
Perhaps if we treated guns the way we treat other potentially dangerous instruments, our cavalier attitude toward them would change.
We require every single person in every state in this country to pass a driving proficiency test before they’re issued a license to get behind the wheel. So why not require that wannabe gun owners pass a gun proficiency test before they are issued a license to obtain and shoot a gun?
Under our current federal laws, states require little more than filling out a form in order to buy and use a gun. Depending on where a gun is purchased, the applicant may have to undergo a criminal background check, and wait a couple days before they can purchase a firearm. The fact that it’s so easy is a matter of national pride.
Presidential contender Jeb Bush told the National Rifle Association’s Leadership Forum: “Today there are well over 1.3 million law-abiding Floridians with a valid concealed weapons permit. 1.3 million: That’s the most in the nation, nearly double that of the second state, which is Texas. Sorry, Gov. Perry.” (Actually, Pennsylania is No. 2, according to Politifact.)
Other politicians will soon feel the need to demonstrate their love of firearms. Republican candidates – Democrats too – will dress up in camouflage gear, hold their guns front and center, to demonstrate … what? That they know the difference between responsible gun ownership and macho posturing? I am certain they do. But seriously, can’t they just tell us they love to hunt?
Nah. They, like many Americans, like to strut their stuff. Don’t tread on me, and all that.
Ain’t that cavalier?