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Permission to Fire Denied

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Perhaps the time has come for a little self-discipline in exercising our Second Amendment rights. I hope that a few more people will hold their fire until they know what they’re shooting at.

In the last few weeks, there have been shootings for ringing the wrong doorbell, driving into the wrong driveway and complaining about late-night target practice.

During this chaos, the Daily Press published a guest column headlined “Permission to Fire Granted” by Darrell M. Allen. It described a shooting incident in Farmington between a Second Amendment Warrior defending his home and the Second Amendment Warrior police officers who shot him dead. Unfortunately, Allen left out some important details.

If you google “Robert Dotson Farmington,” you’ll find a picture that is significantly more complex and ugly than Allen’s shortened version. You can watch the police body camera videos and judge whether both sides started shooting too easily. Actually, this story is more about the Fourth Amendment than the Second. The Fourth Amendment is that one that says that people have a right to “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Those rights can only be violated based on “probable cause,” based on law and precedent.

The police who shot Robert Dotson did not have probable cause. They were responding to a domestic violence call at a different house. Just before the incident, they realized their mistake, but when Dotson opened his door and fired at them, they fired back. Police on duty do not have Second Amendment gun rights; they have authorization based on federal and state law and limited by the Fourth Amendment. They have no authorization to start shooting at a random house.

Imagine this incident had gone the other way. The police go to the wrong house and the homeowner shoots them dead. Will the homeowner be excused for defending his home against random strangers?

Better not try it. Some such homeowners have been charged, with mixed results. Some have successfully claimed self-defense. The important point is that this incident would not have happened in most developed countries. Police would not have responded to a domestic violence call with guns ready. A homeowner would not go to the door and blast whoever was knocking. This is just one example of how American gun violence is off the charts in relation to other countries.

Yes, in other countries police sometimes make mistakes, and citizens want to defend their homes. But fi rst resort to guns is not normal. To many foreigners, Americans seem to be gun-crazy. You can’t blame the Second Amendment for all this mayhem. Imagine that the Second Amendment magically disappeared from all copies of the Constitution. The chance of this miracle is about the same as that the Second Amendment would be repealed. And even if the magic happened, we would still have more guns than people and many state laws and constitutions allowing them.

For example, Article II, Section 6 of the New Mexico Constitution says: “No law shall abridge the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes, but nothing herein shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. No municipality or county shall regulate, in any way, an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.”

That is almost stronger than the Second Amendment. It doesn’t have the confusing part about the well-regulated militia. On the other hand, it allows limits on concealed weapons. Other states have different standards including “stand your ground” laws or “red flag” laws. Some Second Amendment Warriors think the amendment means no gun regulations at all. That’s not the current Supreme Court standard (D.C. v. Heller), which says the Second Amendment “is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” There is a constant debate about which gun regulations are constitutional, although some current justices seem ready to eliminate all regulations.

Too many gun owners and politicians want things wide open. Any gun. Any time. Any or no reason. In other words, we could be like Sudan or Ethiopia. It would be OK to have private armies of young men armed to the teeth, blasting each other and innocent bystanders. I’m not suggesting we could or should get rid of the Second Amendment or forbid guns. The problem is more gun culture than gun laws. I’m suggesting a little self-discipline. It might be nice if we could refrain from fi ring at anyone who knocks at our door or accidentally pulls into our driveway. The Second Amendment is not an excuse for the end of civilization.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to
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