Alton Sterling came to believe that having a gun was the best way to guarantee his safety. That is what conservative politicians, the propagandists of the National Rifle Association, the gun manufacturers, the local gun peddlers and the gun show hucksters had taught him.
Whether or not he was armed when the police stopped him, these officers assumed that he was. Didn't all young Black men carry weapons? So they shot and killed him. If he had a gun in that car it didn’t protect him. How many millions of Americans have come to believe that the best way to guard themselves against violence is to be armed? But the more guns there are in the public’s hands, the more people, including the gun owners, will be shot with them.
Philando Castile was driving with his girlfriend and their 4-year-old child outside St. Paul, Minnesota. He was stopped by the police because one of his tail lights was not working. A verbal confrontation ended when the police, from outside the car window, shot and killed him. So shooting first seemed the right thing to do. He legally owned a gun, and when he was shot was reaching for his wallet to retrieve the proof that he was a proper owner. Did his gun protect him? The suspicion that he had one in that car caused his death.
In every community it is increasingly clear that guns bought for the purpose of personal protection are often the cause of the deaths of the gun owners. For every home invader who has been shot, somewhere in our nation 10 family members have been killed with their own weapons.
What is to be done about the proliferation of weapons? Eliminating handguns is both a legal and a constitutionally remote option. But there are ways to tighten the rules concerning gun sales. Serious background checks would help.
At the same time there are weapons that no civilian should have a right to possess. Even the disputed Supreme Court decision recognizes that there are classes of weapons that, while they are legitimate military armaments, should never be in civilian hands. Nobody has the right to own a howitzer or a sub-machine gun. And yet Micah Johnson was able to legally purchase and own a military assault weapon. He brought it to Dallas and killed five well-armed police officers with it.
A legal ban against the public ownership of assault weapons was passed and signed by the president in 2004. When it expired 10 years later, under intense political pressure, it was not renewed. So Micah Johnson was legally entitled to own one.
Chances are remote that there will be a change in legislative action in the near future. But an election is on the way, and depending on what the progressives of the nation do, there may be hope. The time may be coming as vast majorities of the American people believe that the assault weapon prohibition must be reinstated, and that those who cannot legally fly should not be allowed to possess firearms. Serious background checks is an overwhelming popular position.
Here is one more evidence that how we vote in November has vast implications beyond electing a president.