“Shoot First, Think Later” Culture Claiming Innocent Lives


Ralph Yarl

Ben Crump via AP

Three separate shootings in three different states over the past week underscore the public safety threat created by “stand your ground” laws and culture and by a dramatic increase in the number of guns in American society.

So-called “stand your ground” laws are associated with an 8% increase in killings and significant increases in serious firearm injuries, especially in cases involving Black victims.

Last Thursday an unarmed Black 16-year-old was shot in the head merely because he came to the door of a white man’s house in Kansas City, Missouri.

When Ralph Yarl knocked or rang the bell at Andrew Lester’s house, mistakenly thinking it was the address where he was supposed to pick up his little brothers, Mr. Lester, 84, shot Ralph in the head through the front door and shot the teen a second time after he fell.

Ralph managed to escape and was being treated in the hospital when Andrew Lester was released without any charges, according to the New York Times.

Only after protests over the weekend were charges announced. Mr. Lester was arrested on Tuesday afternoon and almost immediately released on bail.

“Stand your ground” laws have proved deadly for people of color, especially young Black men, who are seen as inherently or presumptively threatening based on their race.

Controlling for other factors, researchers have found it is 281% more likely that the killing of a Black person by a white person will be found “justified” than when a white person kills another white person.

But everyone is vulnerable to a wrongful shooting in the current climate.

Kaylin Gillis, a 20-year-old who drove up the wrong driveway in Hebron, New York, Saturday night, was fatally shot by Kevin Monahan, 65, in an attack that law enforcement described as unprovoked and unexplained. Ms. Gillis and her friends had turned around to leave after realizing they made a wrong turn when she was shot dead by the homeowner.

And early Tuesday morning, two high-school cheerleaders were shot in Elgin, Texas, after one of them opened the door of a car she mistakenly thought was hers on the way home from a light-night practice. One of the girls was treated and released at the scene, but NPR reports, Payton Washington remains hospitalized in critical condition.

“Stand your ground” laws and hysteria promoted by some politicians and gun manufacturers has created a “shoot first, think later” culture and taken this violent, aggressive mindset into the public sphere.

Laws and politicians “tell anyone and everyone that if they feel the slightest provocation, they can use lethal force without retreating, even if they can do so safely without harm to anyone,” Allison Anderman of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence told NPR’s Morning Edition.

As Ms. Anderman explained, “stand your ground” laws have encouraged more people to use guns offensively and at the slightest provocation.