Room for Debate

Gunfire as Conflict Resolution

Victor Rios

Victor Rios is a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of "Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys."

March 21, 2012

Self-defense legislation breeds and fuels a culture of vigilantism and violence. Under these "shoot first" laws, individuals and groups with the proclivity to engage in violent behavior in the name of self defense are basically given legal permission to kill.

Everyday conflicts between citizens, like road rage, neighborly disputes and unwarranted fear or suspicion of other races, may now be resolved with gunfire.

I believe that these laws will lead to an increase in murder rates. Already, the Tampa Bay Times found that in Florida, justifiable killings had increased three-fold since the Stand Your Ground law had passed in 2005. When we allow people to take the law into their own hands, society pays a price.

I shudder to think about the effect this will have on rival gang members.

Street justice, racist Wild West vigilantism and biblical ferocity are just a few of the scenarios that will play out more and more regularly if legislation like this continues to be approved. Add the fact that in this country, poor, young and black (or Latino) people are the ones most often being targeted as criminals, and you have a ticking time bomb.

What if one day I bumped into someone by accident or flipped someone off for taking my parking spot and he felt threatened? Would he have the legal justification to shoot and kill me? I shudder to think about the effect this will have on rival gang members, who are already hard-pressed to control violence toward each other. Based on my experience, retaliation is always an easy option on the streets. We don't want the law giving people the idea that their violent actions will be treated with impunity.

The public must demand that lawmakers enact legislation that presses for stricter gun control and that reverses Stand Your Ground and other similar statutes. Otherwise sociopaths, angry mobs and naïve individuals will use gunfire more and more as conflict resolution.

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Topics: Law, criminal justice, guns

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