Michael Dunn Sentenced in Florida
A few days ago, a judge in Jacksonville, Florida sentenced Michael Dunn.
Dunn, you will recall, was the Florida man who outside a gas station was incensed and offended by the music several teens were playing in their car. So, Dunn, age 47, got a gun from his car and started shooting into the teens’ car, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
A stupid man making a stupid decision, perhaps.
But the story got national coverage because Dunn was white and Davis was black. And Florida is a “stand your ground” state – if you feel threatened you can use force or a weapon to counteract that threat.
The Jacksonville prosecutor charged Dunn with murder, attempted murder, and firing shots into an automobile. The defense argued self-defense in the trial and said that Michael Dunn perceived a threat, perhaps, because he thought the teenagers were armed (they weren’t).
After one trial that ended in a hung jury, the second trial resulted in a guilty verdict. On October 17, 2014, Judge Russell Healey sentenced Michael Dunn to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But in his sentencing statement, Judge Healey made some things that are worth commenting on.
“This case demonstrates that this society has lost its moral compass,” he said. “You hear people talk in the debate about the right to stand your ground. There seems to be a misunderstanding among the general public about that term. Self-defense and justifiable homicide are completed legal concepts. ..We should remember that there’s nothing wrong with retreating or de-escalating a situation.”
In listening to Judge Healy’s statement, I mentally applauded what he was saying. The major shootings of the last few years – George Zimmerman of Trayvon Martin and Officer Darren Wilson of Michael Brown, two that come readily to mind – all could have been avoided by someone backing down or walking away.
I couldn’t help thinking about the line from the 1946 movie “The Big Sleep” in which Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade says “You’re the second person I met today who thinks a gat in the hand means the world by the tail.”
I suppose that’s what it’s like for people who carry a gun in a stand your ground state – if I have a gun then will be safe and secure when I’m threatened.
Since when does carrying a weapon guarantee your safety? Every soldier in every war these days has plenty of fire power, but do they really feel safe? And are they are protected from harm? Obviously not.
Who are the people who get a gun permit in order to feel safe? From what? What is the imminent danger that stalks them every day? It’s likely to be more psychological than actual physical danger. It presupposes a world view that life is full of dangers and as an ordinary citizen you have to arm yourself in order to be prepared to deal with all the dangers around you. Who knows when you might be threatened by someone’s music that threatens your comfort?
But then there are the rest of us who have spent our lives learning to brush aside those things that threaten us. Or we have learned to deal with bullies and hot heads with soft words, self-deprecatory humor, and, I shudder to even mention this, walking away.