Fear, guns and the American experience

Hoping for healing in the wake of tragedy Photo: MaxMercy

SANTA CRUZ, July 22, 2013 — As the dust continues to settle following the Zimmerman verdict, one thing is clear: America is still a long way from figuring out this whole race thing.

This week, President Obama spoke about the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and about race in America. Predictably, conservative pundits pounced on him for his remarks. Some called him a racist, while others accused him of hypocrisy.

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While the National Rifle Association (NRA) will argue that Florida’s stand your ground law is a positive decree, an indispensable tool in people’s ability to protect themselves, gun control advocates will counter with ghastly statistics of gun related deaths, many of them accidental and unnecessary, which afflict the U.S. on a larger scale than any other industrialized democracy. 

It may be human nature for people to express fear, trepidation or unease when confronted by something or someone they do not understand. In a nation made up of so many different ethnicities and cultures, there lies infinite potential for these divisions to fester. Social programming, much of it unconscious, can contribute to these feelings of mistrust.

If the incident in Florida transpired the way George Zimmerman described it, he would not be the first person to fear an African American man he did not know. President Obama speaks of stepping onto an elevator as a “white woman clutches her purse and holds her breath.”

When a fearful section of the population is compelled to arm themselves in some attempt to self protect, there is potential for overreaction. While nobody ought to live in the presumption of fear or attack, there is room for a more reasoned approach to avoiding unnecessary confrontation.  

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If Trayvon Martin attacked George Zimmerman without provocation, the question could be asked, why Zimmerman was confronting him at all? Was the fact that Zimmerman was armed an incentive to act? Was it an attempt to protect his territory?

If he had not been armed, would he have pursued the other man or risked a potentially combustible confrontation.

The fact remains that Florida’s law allows for a very liberal translation. For an armed Floridian, anybody they perceive as a threat could be followed, confronted and shot. Given the barriers of mistrust and ignorance to which so many Americans shackle themselves, this is a recipe for tragedy.

Too many weapons in the hands of too many frightened people. Shoot first, ask questions later is a cliche, which now appears to be the law in Florida.

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President Obama was attacked for identifying with Trayvon Martin, for voicing his recollection of being a young black man, eyed with suspicion for no reason. Taking away the polarizing discussion about guns for a moment, Americans ought to focus on a greater dialogue about race, diversity, and acceptance.

People are prisoners of their experience and that experience is different for every type of American.

To diffuse volatile confrontations before they escalate to violence ought to be everybody’s goal. When firearms are added to these tense situations, there can only be tragedy and hurt. Americans might focus on their common experience rather than their obvious differences.

Not every white gun owner is a vigilante, not every black man is a criminal, and so on.

Americans can only hope some lasting lesson and permanent good will eventually come out of this tragedy. Unfortunately, the short term consequence appears to be that everybody is retreating to their safe, polemic trenches to hurl accusations as they reload their weapons. It may indeed be left to the next generation to finally figure out that everyone is stuck here together and they may as well get used to it. Healing will begin when Americans of all kinds learn to accept each other and meet on the common ground of tolerance rather than fear.

Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

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Russ Rankin

Santa Cruz, California native Russ Rankin is the vocalist for the seminal California punk band Good Riddance, the hard rock band Only Crime as well as currently performing original songs as a solo artist. Rankin is a dedicated vegan, an avid animal rights advocate, a political activist and has been a regular columnist for AMP Magazine and New Noise Magazine as well as contributing to various magazines such as Alternative Press, Razorcake and others. 

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