Trigger Warning

Recent shootings of innocent visitors by elderly homeowners in Kansas City and Upstate New York have prompted a lot of anguished discussion. Both incidents are mind-boggling: why would you shoot a 16-year-old kid for ringing your doorbell? Why would you fire live rounds at visitors turning around in your driveway?

Elderly man with a rifle. Image source: Craiyon.
Elderly man with a rifle. Image source: Craiyon.

“Stand-your-ground” laws have been cited (Missouri has one, New York does not). So has the “castle doctrine.” However, Christopher Slobogin, law professor at Vanderbilt University and director of the school’s Criminal Justice Program, notes that both of these legal precepts “… still [require you] to be reasonable in your response to the attacker.” *

Fine, except there was no attacker in either case. Ralph Yarl, a black teenager, was shot twice by 84-year-old Andrew Lester for ringing Lester’s doorbell. Yarl was shot in the head but nonetheless survived. Kaylin Gillis, 20, was shot by 65-year-old Kevin Monahan for mistakenly driving, with friends, up Monahan’s driveway in search of a friend’s house. The cars were turning around when Gillis was shot and killed.

So, in addition to questionable self-defense doctrines, you could look at age as a possible factor in these shootings. You could certainly cite racism in the Kansas City case. But you still wouldn’t get to the heart of the matter: the obscene flow of guns throughout America, guns which are available to anyone at any time, regardless of their capabilities or circumstances.

Caroline Light, author of Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense, notes that stand-your-ground laws have been associated with an 8% to 11% national increase in monthly homicide rates and have given ordinary Americans a selective right to kill.** 

Light further notes that “the key thing here is that in this uneven landscape, where the laws are all kind of different state-by-state, we can see how the circulation of firearms and the expansion of justifiable homicide creates a more precarious landscape for everybody.”

Indeed. It’s the guns, people. It’s the goddamn guns.

* Ralph Yarl, Kaylin Gillis shootings may renew debate about ‘stand your ground’ laws.

** Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense.