Massachusetts: Where Stricter Gun Laws = Fewer Deaths

One of the things many conservatives just hate about Massachusetts is our gun laws. They are strict. And they make a difference. According to the most recent figures available, the gun death rate in Massachusetts was the second lowest in the nation. By comparison, in Florida, where the Republican-dominated legislature is in thrall to the NRA, the rate of gun deaths was almost three-and-a-half times higher. Florida is, of course, where Trayvon Martin died last month. Gunned down while being black and carrying Skittles. And thanks to Florida’s gun laws, that may not be a crime.

As most people are probably aware by now, 17 year-old Martin was shot to death in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., by a gun-toting “neighborhood watch” member, George Zimmerman. Martin was walking back from the store where he had purchased some Skittles. Zimmerman was in his car looking for “perps” and had a 9-millimeter handgun.

Zimmerman spotted Martin, called 911, and told the dispatcher he thought Martin looked suspicious. He was told to stay in his car and that police would respond.

Zimmerman didn’t listen. He apparently wanted to get him some justice. “These a–holes always get away,” he complained to the dispatcher.

But Martin had done nothing wrong. He was unarmed, had every right to be there, and was by all accounts a good kid. His teacher described him as an A and B student whose favorite subject was math. He wanted to go to college and become an engineer.

Zimmerman wanted to be a cop. According to an earlier incident report, Zimmerman once followed a man who allegedly spit at him while driving. The other driver accused Zimmerman — whom he described as “irate” — of tailgating him, and was not arrested. Zimmerman had called police 46 times since January of last year and had been previously arrested for assault on a police officer. He did exactly what the police dispatcher told him not to do. He tracked Martin, got out of the car, and confronted him. Over nothing. Now Trayvon Martin is dead. And Zimmerman is free. George Zimmerman, the guy who shot and killed a 17-year-old kid who had done nothing wrong, was not arrested and not charged with a crime. Because Zimmerman said it was self defense.

The tragedy at first seems both awful and perplexing. But then it gets even worse. It turns out that the first Sanford officer in charge of the murder scene was Sgt. Anthony Raimondo. Raimondo, who according the the local press has three validated complaints and another one pending, was involved in another highly controversial case back in 2010 when being white apparently made everything all right.

In December of that year, Justin Collison, the white son of a Sanford Police officer was caught on videotape sucker-punching a homeless black man from behind and then assaulting two bystanders. The assault on the homeless man knocked him out, broke his nose, and sent him to the hospital.

Despite the fact that Officer Raimondo and the other police officers at the scene watched the tape of Collison sneaking up behind the victim and sucker-punching him, despite a slew of eyewitnesses who can be heard on the tape saying the assault was totally unprovoked, and despite the fact that Collison had been previously accused of shooting a motorist in the chest after a beer bash and beating and choking his girlfriend, Raimondo declared that there would be no arrest and no charges against him. Raimondo just sent the white boy home, even though he had quite clearly and without provocation of any kind, sucker-punched a homeless black man, knocked him out, and sent him to the hospital. And it was Raimondo who was in charge of the scene on the night 17 year old Martin Trayvon was shot and killed. By a white man.

One of the other possible reasons that no charges have been filed yet in the killing of Trayvon Martin may relate to a bill the Republican-dominated Florida legislature passed in 2005 that expanded on the so-called “castle doctrine” It was an NRA dream come true and declared that any person attacked in any place outside the home where they have any legal right to be may use deadly force to defend themselves. When in doubt — pull it out — and shoot.

Back in 2005, one of the sponsors of the extension of the Castle Doctrine gun bill, state Rep. Dennis Baxley solemnly declared: “We’re standing with the people, and I truly think it will make a safer society.” I hope Rep. Baxley has the decency to stop by the funeral home and explain to Martin’s grieving parents just how he thinks that whole safer society thing is working out.

In 2009, guns took the lives of 31,347 Americans in homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings. This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day and more than three deaths each hour. As some people look at the senseless tragedy in Florida, they will shake their heads and mutter to themselves:  “It’s such a shame. There ought to be a law.”  Those people should know — there is such a law in Massachusetts — and it helps.