Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Friendly fire: Shooting friends and family in mistaken act of "self-defense"

Since 2015, at least 47 Americans have shot friends, loved ones, roommates, or emergency responders they said they’d mistaken for home intruders, killing 15, according to an analysis of gun violence incidents by BuzzFeed News and The Trace. In at least 27 of those cases, criminal charges were dismissed or never filed because authorities deemed the shootings accidental, an act of self-defense in a moment of panic.
For years, gun-rights advocates have promoted the use of firearms by arguing that “to stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun,” a refrain National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre repeated in a speech in late February. Pro-gun media outlets, like Bearing Arms, which has around two million followers on its Facebook page, and Active Self Protection, which has more than three-quarters of a million subscribers on its YouTube channel, highlight cases of armed civilians warding off attackers. In the days following the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left 17 dead and 14 wounded, President Donald Trump and others called on school districts to arm teachers for the safety of their students, an idea originally proposed by the NRA in 2012 after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. “When a sick individual comes into that school, they can expect major trouble,” Trump said of the proposal during a White House press briefing. “The bullets are going to be going toward him, also.” Earlier this month, Florida passed a law allowing some teachers to carry guns in the classroom.
But good guys with guns don’t only shoot bad guys with guns. In the sudden, blurry, urgent split seconds when a threat bursts into view, the impulse to pull the trigger can overwhelm the need to accurately identify the target, leading to snap decisions that bring permanent tragedies.
2016 survey by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities found that 63% of gun owners said that self-defense was a primary motivation for owning a firearm — significantly more than cited hunting or other sporting use. Sales data reflect this: Since 1994, the number of long guns like rifles and shotguns — which are often used for hunting — owned by civilians rose by 21% while the number of handguns, more portable and easier to conceal, rose by 71%.
The national violent crime rate today is less than half of what it was in 1994, according to FBI statistics, but the drop in crime has barely altered Americans’ perception of their safety. A 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that 57% of registered voters falsely believed that crime had increased since 2008. Even as the threat of crime has sunk, the demand for weaponized protection has soared. From 1998 to 2005, fewer than one million pistols were manufactured each year in the United States; since 2012, at least three million have been manufactured annually, according to Department of Justice data.
Many of these handguns are in homes. Many never fire a bullet into a person. But that can change in a flash.
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