WHAT OTHERS SAY: 'Stand your ground' may have gone too far

Thursday, July 25, 2013 | 6:01 a.m. CDT

Paul Franklin Dart is not Trayvon Martin, and James Robert Crocker is not George Zimmerman.

But the confrontation last weekend between Mr. Crocker and Mr. Dart on a gravel sandbar adjacent to the Meramec River near Steelville may well hinge on the same legal analysis that allowed Florida jurors to conclude that it was perfectly legal for Mr. Zimmerman to shoot Mr. Martin dead.

Even though Mr. Martin was unarmed. Even though Mr. Zimmerman created the confrontation.

Mr. Zimmerman was scared and he had a gun. Next case, please.

On Saturday, Mr. Crocker shot Mr. Dart in the face, killing him in front of his wife and friends, who were floating down the Meramec on a hot summer day.

“My husband tried to calm the guy down,” Mr. Dart’s widow, Loretta Dart, told Post-Dispatch reporter Kim Bell. “He went to the guy’s arm to try to stop him, but the guy jerked back and popped him in the face. I watched him be shot in the face and fall down. I watched my husband bleed to death. He was a wonderful man. He didn’t deserve this.”

No, by all accounts, he didn’t.

Too many deaths

Of course, neither did Leonard J. Smith Jr., deserve to die. Leonard was 11. He was shot to death in a tragic accident in Belleville last week when he and several other children were playing with a gun at a private home. The shooter was 6 years old.

The cause of death in both cases is the same: GSW. Gunshot wound.

One case was accidental. The other was not. But the symptom that leads to lives snuffed out too early is identical. Too many guns. Too many people who believe that the America of 2013 should allow no restrictions — none — on what a man and his gun can do.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, based on 2010 statistics, 52 children or teens died every week — yes, every week — at the hand of a gun. The United States has 10 times more gun deaths among children and teens than other high-income countries.

That’s what happens when you have more guns per 100 people (about 94 of them) than any other country in the world. Second place? Yemen, home of al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula.

To the National Rifle Association and those who do that gun-loving organization’s bidding, all those dead children are just collateral damage in a war for ultimate gun freedom. And Mr. Dart? Wrong place. Wrong time. Too bad.

Listen to Mr. Crocker’s response after he shot a man dead because one of his friends got out of a canoe on a public river and walked into the woods to urinate.

“I have the power here,” he told Mr. Dart and his friends, according to one of the witnesses. “I have the power.”

Under Missouri law, if the gravel bar in question is indeed his land, he might have a case.

Unusual property case

Missouri, like Florida, has a version of a “Stand Your Ground” law, which means a person with a gun on his own property who fears for his life doesn’t have a duty to retreat. He can shoot to defend himself. Even if it’s just to kill a trespassing floater whose friend is answering nature’s call. End of story.

Mr. Crocker has been charged with second-degree murder and is being held at the Crawford County Jail. Here’s what’s likely to happen:

His lawyer will argue self-defense. The floaters were drinking and some of them had river rocks in their hands. The trial will turn on obscure Missouri law regarding gravel bars along rivers and whether they are actually private property. That depends on whether the river was considered navigable. It’s a complicated area of law, according to those who have studied it.

Many Missouri lawmakers have long been protective of the property rights of landowners along the state’s float streams. Some of them have been suspicious of the National Scenic Riverways designation for the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. Much of the legislature’s paranoia about the nonbinding United Nations Agenda 21 sustainability plan was driven by a fear of U.N. incursion in the Ozarks.

So there’s little doubt that Missouri lawmakers, the same ones who passed a law this year seeking to nullify every federal gun law ever conceived, will come up with a Stand Your Gravel Bar law.

Any suggestion that our gun culture is to blame will be shoved aside as unconstitutional liberal drivel. Never mind that nobody had to die.

Mr. Dart, who lived in Robertsville, was 48. The Army veteran left behind a wife and stepson. He’s dead because somebody had to pee and somebody else had a gun.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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Mark Foecking July 25, 2013 | 10:16 a.m.

"Too many people who believe that the America of 2013 should allow no restrictions — none — on what a man and his gun can do."

That is, of course, hyperbole, as there are many restrictions on ownership and especially how a gun may be carried and used. However, that's not really the issue here.

Even after Sandy Hook, there simply was not the political will to meaningfully attack the "too many guns" problem. "Meaningfully attack" would mean making owning a gun so difficult and/or expensive that most people would choose not to do it. That still, of course, would not do anything about the present supply of illegal guns, but it would eventually reduce the supply of legal guns, which are often stolen and wind up as illegal guns,

My point is that complaining about "too many guns" is as useless as complaining about the weather. By our collective actions, we accept the fact that our freedom to own guns carries a risk that some guns may be used wrongfully. We accept a large death toll from driving, because we consider it a useful and desirable activity. Currently, and probably for the forseeable future, we hold our guns in the same regard - that the benefits of ownership outweigh the risks. I don't see that changing.


(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 25, 2013 | 9:18 p.m.

I don't know if the headline is provided by the Post-Dispatch or the Missourian, but Zimmermann never argued Stand Your Ground in his case.

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