A sixteen-year-old boy in Kansas City was shot after he rang the wrong doorbell. A twenty-year-old woman in upstate New York was fatally shot after she and her friends pulled into the wrong driveway. Two cheerleaders in Texas were shot after one reportedly entered the wrong car in a parking lot. A six-year-old girl and her parents were shot in North Carolina because she raced to retrieve a basketball in a neighbor’s yard.
Each of these incidents seems like a tragic aberration. But they were all in the news within a single week in April. In fact, such shootings are all too common, though they rarely make the headlines.
The more general problem is familiar. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in the United States, surpassing car crashes. In 2020, more than 4,300 young people died from firearm-related injuries—a 29 percent increase from 2019. Staggering numbers, but hardly surprising, given the arsenal of guns scattered across the country. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, about three in ten adults say they own a gun, and four in ten say they live in a household with a gun.
These most recent incidents of innocent people dying after making what should have been trivial errors are another grim reminder of our collective failure to address gun violence. They also demonstrate our collective failure to push back against the “castle doctrine” and stand-your-ground laws, which offer expansive legal protections for people who use deadly force against anyone they perceive to be a threat.
Often referred to as a “make my day” law, the castle doctrine is rooted in centuries-old common law. Stand-your-ground laws are a more recent phenomenon. In 2005, the Florida state legislature, enthusiastically backed by the NRA, voted to extend self-defense protections from the home into the public arena. Gun-control advocates, prosecutors, and police chiefs all warned that the law would result in needless deaths. Seven years later, George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, shot seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was walking home from a local store. A jury later acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder.