Friday, 8 July 2016

The USA, Alton Sterling, the 2nd Amendment, and stuff

"A country's scientists, funded by their tax payers, put a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter.
A day later, two of the same country's police officers wrestle a man to the ground, kneel on him, and whilst he's restrained, one of the police offices pulls out his gun, shoots the restrained man multiple times, killing him. 
It is so strange that a country can be so advanced, and leading the world in some areas, whilst simultaneously being so barbaric and horrific."

These were my thoughts upon hearing about, and then seeing the footage of the killing of Alton Sterling. The footage is disturbing. The footage that came out first was filmed from inside a car about 10 metres from where Alton is killed. A second recording of the killing is filmed by someone standing about 2 or 3 metres from where Alton is killed.
There are reports that there is security footage of the incident, but that police have (illegally) seized that footage.
As is always the case in the era of social media, stories about what happened came out almost instantly. He was selling CDs. He was selling CDs and waving a gun. He's a paedophile. He's been charged with sexual assault crimes.  
Of course in this age of instant information, it is entirely possible for people to find out details about people and that information is shared instantly all over the world. Two issues come to mind when this happens. 
First, unless you want to spend time researching it yourself, there's no real way to determine the truth from lies. Of course something like previous charges can be found out with a deal of confidence, but what was happening on the scene prior to the incident, cannot.
Second, why does any of this matter? In this specific case, the man's gun was in his pocket when he was killed. He was selling CDs. I don't know if legally or illegally (people did claim he had permission from the store owner) but even if illegally, it's not an executable offence, let alone one where the punishment is execution without trial. Whatever the situation before he was killed, Alton Sterling was entitled to due process. An entitlement he didn't receive.
There is some contention as to whether or not the killing of Alton Sterling was justified...yes, really. I had a lengthy debate on twitter about it. It is a fact of the world in which we live that two people can look at the same footage and come away with two different opinions. Opinions they feel strongly about. 
I've seen the footage, as disturbing as it is. It upset me. I felt horrified. I won't post it here, but it's easy to find if you need to see it.
What I see is a man tackled to the ground, after he's yelled at to get on the ground. We don't know why he's told to get on the ground. We don't know why he didn't. He's clearly scared. 
He's pinned to the ground, on his side, right next to the front bumper of a car
One police officer appears to be kneeling on Alton's knees, the other is kneeling next to Alton's head. Alton struggles. He can't move but for a few jolts. I can't speak to his mindset but to me he appears terrified. Someone shouts 'he's got a gun'. The police officer near Alton's head pulls his gun, pointing it at Alton, perhaps 10cm away. Words are shouted. Alton doesn't move. The two police officers have been identified as Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake.
I'm not sure who it is who shoots first, or if both officers shoot, but at least one of them does. The camera being used in the nearby car drops away after the first two shots. People in the car can be heard becoming distressed and shocked at what they've witnessed. One of them asks 'why?' A fair question.
In the second video, it appears that Alton sits up or is jolted up by the first two or three shots. As with the first piece of footage, the camera drops away but unlike the first, it returns to the scene, after more shots are fired. It's graphic. Alton is seen with a large blood patch on his t-shirt. One of the police officers is still pointing his gun at Alton. Alton is not yet dead, as his arms can still be seen moving. He dies shortly after, but this isn't shown. 
Important things: 
1: According to an eyewitness account in this story Alton didn't have his hand near his pocket when he was shot. 
2: After pulling his gun, the police officer opens fire within seconds. In these seconds. Alton doesn't move.
I don't know why the police were there. I don't know why they ordered Alton to the ground. I don't know why he didn't get on the ground.
I do know that when someone shouted that Alton had a gun he was pinned to the ground, unable to move. I do know that seconds after a police officer pulled his gun, shots were fired. I do know that in the seconds between the gun being drawn, and the shots being fired, Alton didn't move.
I think Alton Sterling was unlawfully killed, but I have little doubt the police will be exonerated. It's seen time and time again that police in the US can kill citizens (typically, it seems, black men) and get away with it. No case to answer.
From here, it's formula. People will demand change, the president will issue a statement, people will hit the streets, the NRA will remain quite on the specific case, but still support guns, guns, and more guns. Australians, Canadians, Brits, and others will express bewilderment and the American love of guns, and for being so bold as to desire that our American friends stop shooting each other, we'll be told to mind our own business or, as has happened to me in the past, be called cowards for not having guns.
There may be riots, and if there are, there will be calls for calm, or the demonstrations may be peaceful. People will suggest it's a race issue, others will criticise them for that. People will say *they* aren't the problem, that *they* are a responsible gun owner. That the problem is illegal guns..,despite all guns starting off as legal guns.
And it won't even be the next day (another black man, Philando Castile being killed by a police officer within 24 hours of the death of Alton Sterling) let alone a week, or a month later According to this report 506 people have been shot and killed by police in the US this year. So, within about 8.5 hours, police will kill another citizen, most likely a black man, and although neither Alton Sterling nor Philando Castile were unarmed, according to the same report, it's seven times more likely be an unarmed black man who is killed next over a white person.
America, it seems, is a country on edge. A country that, like my own, has problems with racism. But unlike my own, it's a country with a, to this observer, bizarre obsession with, and love of guns. A country that has a national gun-supporting lobby spending millions and millions of dollars to buy politicians to make sure that the second amendment remains in tact.
The second amendment, in case you don't know, is this: 
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
It was adopted on December 15, 1791. At the time of writing, that's some 225 years ago. I recently saw this video. A man enters an office holding an old style gun. He fires the gun, missing the person he was shooting at. He then reloads the gun, which takes a long time, having to pack in the shot, and the gun powder. Meanwhile, everyone flees, screaming. Text appears on the screen reading 'Guns have changed, shouldn't our gun laws?'
A fair question, I would have thought. However, in In Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), [from Wikipedia] 
the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier rulings that "the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding"
"Even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding". Hmm. As worldly and intelligent as the writers of the second amendment may have been, I'm not sure how accurately the could have envisioned the future of 'arms'.
For example, provided you (and the gun) meet the criteria, you can own a fully automatic machine gun in the US. Fully automatic means squeeze the trigger once, lots of bullets come out.
Assault weapons (defined in the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban as: semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine) are legal throughout the US, except for 7 states. Semiautomatic means, with the magazine, you can fire one bullet per pull of the trigger. No reload, no cocking.
The task of wondering what was going on in the minds of people 225 years ago is impossible. We can never know the actual intention of the 2nd amendment. We can interpret, speculate and assume, but we can't know.
The Supreme court says 'even those not in existence at the time of the founding' and I agree with them. It's a reasonable assumption to think those who implemented the second amendment knew 'arms' would change. But did they think 'ordinary citizens' would be able to buy something like the Sig Sauer MCX, seen in the picture below? 

You know? I kind of doubt it. This gun, along with a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol were used by Omar Marteen to murder 50 people in an Orlando night club in June of 2016. It is a ferocious weapon. One must ask why an ordinary citizen would need such a weapon.
A common cry from gun owners is that a gun is required for self defence. It leads me to think that Americans need guns to protect themselves from Americans with guns. A vicious circle with murderous consequences.
It seems though that rather than self-defence, guns lead to self-harm, and harm of friends, and foes alike. Information cited in this study on guns in the home and risk of violent death shows a link between having guns in the home and an increased risk of dying because of it.
Some notable statistics out of the studies referenced: 
  •  Approximately 60 percent of all homicides and suicides in the United States are  committed with a firearm
  • Ecologic analyses have suggested a link between the prevalence of gun ownership and rates of homicide and suicide
  • After they controlled for a number of potentially confounding factors, 
    • the presence of a gun in the home was associated with a nearly fivefold risk of suicide
    • an almost threefold risk of homicide
  • a history of family handgun purchase was associated with an elevated risk of both homicide and suicide
From the study itself (note - it's from 2004) 
  • Nearly three quarters of suicide victims lived in a home where one or more firearms were present
  • A firearm was used in 68 percent of both homicides and suicides
  • Over three quarters (76.3 percent) of the homicide victims knew their assailant.
  • Nearly one third (31.7 percent) of the homicides occurred during a family argument
  • an increased risk of homicide for those with firearms in the home
  • Males with firearms in the home were at a significantly greater risk of suicide than males without guns in the home
This says, to me, that having a gun in the home is a dangerous idea.
It's often overlooked that the first part of the second amendment reads: 'A well regulated militia....' The armed citizens of the United States could well be called a militia, but well regulated? Certainly not
The next part of the second amendment says: "...being necessary to the security of a free state" Not self-defence from burglars. Not for shooting cans off the back fence. 'Security of a free state'. I would suggest this means to thwart invasion and, possibly, being taken over by a tyrannical government. Of course in 1791, all guns were the same. The guns the military had were the guns the citizens had. Not so now.
For example, the US military has amongst its armoury the M249 light machine-gun which can fire up to 1000 rounds per minute. A semi-automatic version was made available to the public in 2015. On this gun alone it's 1000 rounds per minute (military) v 'as fast as someone can repeatedly pull the trigger'. You'd have to pull the trigger *16 times per second* to match the fully automatic version. It's not a contest.
This, of course is ignoring the fact that the US military is the most heavily armed force in the history of the world. Highly trained soldiers v ordinary citizens. Fully automatic weapons at 1000 rounds per minute v maybe 120? 180? And that's before the person using the semi-automatic tires. But it doesn't stop there. Hand-grenades, bazookas, rocket launchers, missiles, air craft. The citizenry cannot match the might of the military. There are three scenarios.One: The government wants to become a dictatorship, and the military is on its side...the citizenry can't stop them (no matter how many times they've seen Red Dawn). Two: The government wants to take over and the military is *not* on their side...the military will take care of that themselves. Three: The government wants to take over and the military is split...the military will fight the military on equal footing. It's absurd to think a not at all regulated militia will have any impact against the US military.
In this video a white man open-carrying an AR-15 is approached by a police officer and casually questioned as to whether he has a purpose (beside it simply being his right). It then shows a black man exercising the same right. This time the police office exits his vehicle, his gun drawn, and orders the man to the ground. Several other police vehicles arrive shortly after. The man on the ground is handcuffed and his gun taken by a police officer.
There are obvious flaws here - different police office, different street. Maybe had the first officer seen the second man he'd have approached him the same way he approached the first man. But...I don't think so.
After I started this post, a protest march over the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings took place in Dallas, Texas. During the march snipers in 'elevated positions' opened fire at police. Five police officers were killed. Three suspects are in custody, a fourth is dead after a standoff.
As I said above, America is a country on edge. It's an armed country where police are in fear of their lives when a person reaches towards their pocket, and citizens (particularly black men) are in fear of their lives when engaged by police. It's a metaphoric powder keg and it's waiting to go off. I just hope the fuse hasn't already been lit.