Gabrielle Giffords, Trayvon Martin: Why aren’t we talking about the guns?

What does it take in America when there is a senseless gun shooting for the country to say enough is enough about firearms?

In January, 2010, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot and near fatally wounded while having an open house for constituents at a small shopping center in her home district of Tucson, AZ. Six others at the event were killed by the gunfire; others were severely wounded.

In February, 2012, a seventeen-year-old boy, Trayvon Martin, was walking to his father’s home in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, just outside of Orlando. He was carrying only a bag of Skittles and a bottle of Arizona iced tea.

He was being surveyed and then followed by a “neighborhood watchman,” George Zimmerman. By Florida law, Zimmerman was permitted to carry a gun, in this case a 9 mm gun, a primary weapon of the U.S. military. While the facts are not entirely clear (and may never be so if there is not a trial), Zimmerman wound up shooting Martin in the chest and killing him.

Virtually everyone from the president of the United States to most publications have been absolutely silent about the role of guns in these incidents and the need for meaningful gun control legislation.

In the 1960s, gun violence was rampant. Four major leaders were struck down by bullets, each by a single shooter: President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X. After each incident, there were calls for new legislation to make it more difficult for individuals to acquire handguns and rifles. The concern about guns was further raised by how they were being used in a variety of other ways from riots in American cities, a frustrating war in Vietnam, and a rising crime rate throughout the United States.

Fifty years ago, the National Rifle Association was a powerful lobby in Washington, DC and across the country. However, their strategy to prevent gun control legislation was quite different than it is now. The N.R.A. persistently made the argument that guns needed to be legal and accessible because they provided the best means of citizens protecting themselves against would-be criminals. While that argument is still used, it has largely been supplanted by the somewhat theoretical contention that the Second Amendment to the United States entitles citizens to own and carry guns. The language of the Second Amendment is vague and confusing; it has the cache of being attached to the Constitution, the core document of our democracy.

So long as incidents such as the Giffords and Martin shootings continue and the general public is silent about the means by which the injuries were inflicted, the question remains as to what we can do to harness the deadly carnage that guns are inflicting on our society. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, several strong opinion makers have addressed the excess use of guns both directly and indirectly with suggestions that can be effective.

In its Monday, April 9 edition, TIME MAGAZINE concluded its article on the Martin shooting by stating, “The case will unfold slowly in court and will offer only agony to Martin’s parents. But even if Zimmerman is eventually charged, it should be Florida’s gun laws that go on trial.” It’s possible that TIME will lose some readers and perhaps even advertisers for taking such a direct swipe at Florida’s week gun laws. But the magazine’s statement breaks through the near gag-order that the N.R.A. has enforced on office holders and the mainstream press in addressing the role of guns in crime.

On Sunday, March 25, New York Senator Charles Schumer was a guest on Face the Nation. While he did not directly address the issue of gun control, he was very critical of the “stand your ground” laws in Florida and elsewhere which presumably gave Zimmerman justification for shooting Martin. Under the law, if an individual feels that his life is in danger and that he might be seriously wounded or injured, he is justified in using a gun or other deadly weapon to “defend” himself. While most of the media had focused on the particulars of the Martin – Zimmerman case, Schumer directly addressed the law that made it possible for the deadly killing to take place.

Arthur Lieber Arthur Lieber (310 Posts)

Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.


  • EpsilonSemi

    I’d just like to call out the “a primary weapon of the U.S. military” quote as being a bit sensationalist and biased. The “9mm” as it’s mentioned here (formally known as 9×19 parabellum) is arguably the most common caliber of ammunition in general (next to .22LR); it’s not restricted to military or law enforcement. The aforementioned quote skews the “9mm” unjustly, leading the reader to infer that people are running around with “military-grade” ammunition, when in truth it is a standard and VERY common caliber for recreational shooting.

    And on a pedantic note, calling 9mm a “primary weapon” of the military is like saying knives are a primary weapon — it’s a situational tool, it’s not the main piece of equipment. It’s a sidearm.

  • Emilytar

    Epi, you read that whole article and the only thing you can talk about is one phrase that you apparently read wrong? He said “a” primary weapon, not “the only” primary weapon. And since when are facts sensational? Since you don’t like how they sound? 

    I’m glad you used the word “pendantic” because it saves me the trouble of using the phrase “insecure male.”

  • EpsilonSemi

    Emi, you read that whole comment and the only thing you can talk about is one pedantic comment you apparently have a sexist axe to grind about? Yes, he did write “a primary weapon,” but if you notice, I said it was a “sidearm.” A sidearm is generally accepted as a secondary weapon. A “primary weapon” would be, say, an M4 assault rifle or a M249 light machine gun; a soldier would draw his sidearm (aka “secondary weapon”) in situations where his M4 rifle (aka “primary weapon”) is either not available or not practical. Please try to understand the difference.

    Also, please note that I did not dispute the “fact” that the military uses a “9mm” handgun (the M9, formally), so the “fact” itself is not “sensational” — the way in which he presented this “fact” was sensationalistic. This is known as “tone.”

    In case that concept confuses you, let me give you an example:
    a) A man died when his car was hit by a Prius on the highway.
    b) The driver of a Prius killed a man when he hit his car on the highway.

    Both sentences present the same fact, but the second sentence makes the driver of the Prius to be a “villain” by the use of “killed,” whereas the first sentence is more neutral in tone.

    Finally, it would surprise you to know that the word “pedantic” is actually not a shorthand for “insecure male.” In truth, it has no sexist connotations; it actually means “being nitpicky about a minor issue.” Please do not use gender discrimination as a tool to argue about your pedantic issues, especially when you do not know the gender of the person you’re trying to insult.

  • Emilytar

    My apologies, ma’am. The “tone” of your “message” and obsession with guns made me think you were a male. I’m usually really good at figuring out gender from messages, Ms. Epi. I was pretty sure about it this time, but I am the first to admit when I actually make an error.

    Now that I think about it, if you were male, you would probably not be spending all this time regurgitating trivia about guns and soldiers and would instead be talking about what you really were thinking. When I thought you were Mr. Epi, I figured you were objecting to any hint at curtailing your male wet dreams about guns  — God forbid someone tries to keep innocents alive at the expense of obsessive and masturbatory male gun ownership.

    Forgive me my gender error and please return to your regularly scheduled pomposity.