Thursday, August 22, 2013

How many more American killing fields? -- Aug. 22, 2013 column


This time, it was Duncan, Okla. He was a college baseball player from Australia, out for a run on a summer afternoon. They were three bored teenagers, driving around town with a 22-caliber revolver.

Their worlds collided in an instant last Friday, when Christopher Lane, 22, jogged past, and the teens followed. The 16-year-old, sitting In the back seat, allegedly shot Lane in the back. The 17-year-old driver stomped on the accelerator and the 1993 black Ford Focus sped off, tires squealing. Lane fell to his knees on Country Club Road, mortally wounded.

“It could have been anybody – it was such a random act,” Capt. Jay Evans of the Duncan Police told Sky News, an Australian TV network.

There are 30 homicides with handguns every day in America. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Lane was particularly shocking because the boys said they killed “for the fun of it.” They didn’t know their victim or care. Remorse? What’s that?

They face charges and the wheels of the legal system are beginning to turn.  

No one would have thought that Duncan, population 24,000, would be America’s latest killing field.

“This is not Duncan, Okla.,” said district attorney Jason Hicks. And he’s right, in a way.

The people of Duncan responded as kind-hearted Americans always do in such tragedies. A passerby called 911; another woman performed CPR on Lane. Local restaurants and the United Way raised funds for Lane’s family in Melbourne, Australia, and that of his girlfriend Sarah Harper in Duncan. Lane, who had a baseball scholarship at East Central University in Ada, Okla., was visiting Sarah and her family when he went for the fateful jog.

But make no mistake, Duncan is America. Terrifying, gun-related events are all too common. Four days after Chris Lane was killed, a 20-year-old gunman toting an AK-47 slipped into a crowded elementary school in Atlanta and fired a few shots at the floor in the office.

A school clerk miraculously talked Michael Hill, who was described as mentally unstable, into giving himself up. Antoinette Tuff told the 911 dispatcher: “He said he don’t care if he dies. He don’t have nothing to live for.” That time, no one was hurt.

The glimmer of good news is that the homicide rate in the United States is on the decline. Still, gun violence has become sickeningly routine, especially among young males.

That’s why Congress prohibited licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to people under 21. This hardly seems the time to make guns more available to minors, but the National Rifle Association wants to do just that. It has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the federal law that makes it illegal for licensed dealers to sell handguns or ammunition to those under 21.

People 18 to 20 may receive handguns as gifts from their parents or guardians and buy handguns through unlicensed, private sales. They can buy rifles and shotguns from licensed or unlicensed dealers.

The NRA claims that the handgun sales ban is unconstitutional because it infringes on the right of 18- to- 20-year-olds to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas rejected the claim, noting that Congress had found that persons under 21 “tend to be relatively irresponsible and prone to violent crime, especially when they have easy access to handguns.”

“Congress’ purpose in preventing persons under 21—including 18-to-20-year-olds – from purchasing handguns…was to curb violent crime,” the court said.

The law didn’t stop the thugs in Duncan from getting a gun, but that doesn’t mean we make it even easier for young people to get handguns.

This latest case of gun violence should be a wake-up call for Americans to think about the forces in society that are leading young people to disregard human life. What, beyond talk, should the president, Congress, schools and the rest of us do to help boys and girls find meaning, purpose and dreams for their lives?

This time, it was Duncan. No one knows where the next American killing field will be. But we do know there will be one. 


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