Thursday, April 14, 2022

Limitless guns fueling deadly road rage

The proliferation of guns are fueling an explosion of road rage killings, reported The New York Times.

These eruptions of sudden violence — a man in Tulsa, Okla., firing repeatedly after an argument at a red light; a Georgia driver shot while on a family road trip — are not unique to any part of America, among a population that is increasingly on edge and carrying guns. But they have been perhaps most pronounced on the roads of Texas.

 “In the past, people curse one another, throw up the finger and keep moving,” Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston said in an interview. “Now instead of throwing up the finger, they’re pulling out the gun and shooting.”

As more motorists seemed to be firing guns last year, the Dallas Police Department began tracking road rage shootings for the first time. The results were alarming: 45 people wounded, 11 killed.

In Austin last year, the police recorded 160 episodes of drivers pointing or firing a gun; this year, there have been 15 road rage shootings, with three people struck. (Two others were stabbed in altercations stemming from road rage.) 

The prevalence of such violence, not just in Texas but around the country, suggests a cultural commonality, an extreme example of deteriorating behavior that has also flared on airplanes and in stores. It is as if the pandemic and the nation’s sour mood have left people forgetting how to act in public at the same time as they were buying millions more weapons.

 “It’s the same sort of ball of wax: People getting frustrated, feeling strained and acting out toward others,” said Charis E. Kubrin, a criminologist at the University of California, Irvine. “One thing that we do know is that there has been a huge rise in gun sales,” she added.

Last month, a woman driving with her dog shot and wounded another motorist in Oklahoma City. In Miami, a man fired 11 shots from his car on Interstate 95 in what he has said was self-defense. A Los Angeles couple is set to stand trial for firing into a car during morning rush hour last year, killing a 6-year-old boy on his way to kindergarten.

Criminologists cautioned that any theory of motivation behind road rage shootings is hampered by a lack of data. Most police departments do not keep statistics on road rage episodes, in part because it is not itself a crime category. There is no federal database.

Arizona has tried to get a rough approximation of the number of road rage incidents, adding a box for “possible road rage” to the form filled out by police officers for car crashes in 2018. The data showed an increase in such incidents in 2021 compared with the previous two years, according to Alberto Gutier, the director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

“It’s going crazy,” he said of road rage. “People are so stupid.”

But, he added, the state does not track the number of episodes that end up in gunfire.

For its report on an increase in road rage shootings, the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety relied on the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that compiles data from government sources and media reports. The group found that more than 500 people had been injured or killed in reported road rage shootings last year, up from fewer than 300 in 2019.

“The story that it’s telling is a definite and really worrying increase in incidents of road rage involving a gun,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, the senior director of research at Everytown for Gun Safety. “Only in this country is someone shot and injured or killed every 17 hours in a road rage incident.”

Texas accounted for a quarter of the fatal shootings last year that were documented in the study, with 33 people killed in road rage shootings in the state, up from 18 in 2019.

Among them was David Castro, the 17-year-old who died in Houston in July. David played percussion in his high school marching band, wanted to study engineering in college and hoped to get his driver’s license by the end of the summer.

“I was going over lessons with him as we drove,” his father said in an interview, recalling a conversation with David before the shooting as they hit heavy traffic after the Astros game downtown. David’s 14-year-old brother was also in the car.

After letting several cars merge into his lane, Mr. Castro began to pull forward in his pickup. That is when a white Buick attempted to edge into the lane, he said. Neither yielded ground; eventually the two cars were touching. There was a “verbal altercation,” according to a court record.

A police officer directing traffic told Mr. Castro to let the Buick in. “So I let him in,” he said. “David was nervous. But I was like, whatever that was, it’s over.”

But it wasn’t.

On the highway, the Buick started flashing its lights and honking, Mr. Castro said. “I tried to get away and he stayed right behind me,” Mr. Castro said. As he took a turnaround lane under a highway, he heard two shots. The rear window shattered. David, seated in the passenger seat, was struck in the back of the head.

 “I just started screaming. And he kept chasing us,” Mr. Castro said. “This was not a road rage incident — this was a grown man who took the life of a child because his feelings got hurt.”

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