On Friday, Florida judge Russell Healey sentenced Michael Dunn, the murderer of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Healey also gave Dunn an additional ninety years for three thirty-year counts of attempted murder (against the other occupants of the vehicle into which Dunn emptied his handgun), and a further fifteen years for “for shooting or throwing deadly missiles.” This sentence is richly deserved, and I hope it brings Jordan’s family, including his mother, the remarkably brave and dedicated Lucia McBath, some measure of peace.
In the wake of this verdict, I want to say two brief things.
First, despite the pervasive coverage of the Davis killing as the “loud music murder,” it is imperative that we not let this use of language cloud our actual understanding of Davis’s tragic death. Jordan Davis did not die because his music was too loud. He died because Michael Dunn, a 46 year-old man who appears to have been drinking heavily, decided to empty his handgun into a car with Davis and three of his friends inside. Michael Dunn – an adult man – chose to murder a child because he was on a power trip, decided Davis’s life was worthless, and snuffed it out. Davis was no more killed by his music than Trayvon Martin was killed by his hoodie, and using language that suggests otherwise, as so often when it comes to how we describe violence, diminishes the responsibility of those to blame and perpetrates a very real kind of violence in and of itself. We can hear a similar shirking of responsibility in Dunn’s own words at his sentencing hearing, when he stated, “I am mortified I took a life, whether it was justified or not.” Setting aside the fact that his gesture toward justification, much like his initial attempt at a modified Stand Your Ground defense, is offensive on the face of it, it’s interesting that he chose the word “mortified.” Nowadays, people use the word “mortified” more or less to mean that they’re deeply embarrassed and ashamed (“My fly was open during my speech? OMG, I’m mortified!”). But the word originally derives from a Latin verb that means “to put to death.” And let’s be clear – only one person was put to death here, and that was Jordan Davis. In fact, Davis’s parents specifically asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty for Dunn.
Second, let’s recall that when Dunn killed Davis, he used a gun which he was legally licensed to carry concealed. Earlier this week, after receiving assassination threats, feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a planned lecture at Utah State University in light of Utah’s ultra-permissive Concealed Carry laws. In response to her decision, there was a backlash against her in some sectors of the gun rights community. Much of this response hit predictably sexist notes, and one major outlet even featured a piece based entirely around unsourced slander. The recurrent theme in this criticism, as in some of the feedback I’ve gotten about this blog, is that it is “irrational” for people like Sarkeesian to fear people carrying concealed weapons. Although my attitude towards concealed carry is not entirely negative, I want to stress how frequently these accusations of Sarkeesian’s being “irrational” recycle predictable, sexist tropes of women as overly emotional and incapable of logic (as though being afraid of people bringing guns to an event at which you had been told you would be shot was somehow unreasonable!). Moreover, they are also frequently voiced by the same folks who oppose gun restraining orders for those accused of domestic violence, and who otherwise are inclined to pre-emptively dismiss the experiences of women who come forward about domestic abuse as “false accusations.” And even if we were to temporarily bracket the grim data about women and gun violence in this country, I think it’s about time that we banish the canard that Concealed Carry permit holders are somehow inherently reasonable and responsible. Being a bigoted, frequently-intoxicated rageaholic or psychopath who feels entitled to murder children whom you decide are “thuggish” or to assassinate women whom you feel “have it coming to them” isn’t something that we can detect when issuing a Concealed Carry permit – and being afraid of such people is eminently rational. So let’s dismiss the knee-jerk #notall-ism, and recognize that default presumption of maturity and responsibility to all permit holders for the wishful thinking that it is. There are intelligent conversations to be had about Concealed Carry, but dismissing as “irrational” or otherwise mocking the fear of people who regularly face threats to their well-being – or who have to wonder daily whether their kids will come home alive or instead wind up dead at the hands of some trigger-happy vigilante – is not a way to start them. If you think otherwise, well, maybe you should try walking a day in Anita Sarkeesian’s shoes – or asking Jordan Davis.