Tech & society

Historical context surrounding March for Our Lives movement

MarchForOurLives protest bucks 165 years of history. In 1853, a young man shot a teacher in a Kentucky classroom. He was acquitted; his defense echos that in the Trayvon Martin case.

In 1853, a young man shot his brother’s teacher in a Kentucky classroom and was acquitted. His defense will sound familiar to anyone who remembers Trayvon Martin.*

Since the 2016 president election, we have been actively reliving the mid-1800s run-up to the Civil War. White House historical parallels center on Nixon and Watergate. But the big social issues – especially gun use – center on slave state beliefs.

As protests around the nation – in all 50 states as well as around the world illustrated on March 14 and 24 (and will again on April 20), the majority demands that the right to enjoy peace must have a renaissance.

Memo to elected officials: millennials will out-number boomers by 2019, and they appear to be as politically engaged as said boomers were in the 1960s and early 1970s.


A 165-year-long conflict

The nation’s first “high profile” classroom shooting illustrates perfectly how the NRA “vision” for the 2nd Amendment is grounded in southern slave state culture.

Writing in Politico, Saul Cornell, professor of American History at Fordham University, observes:

After the American Revolution, [America developed] radically different legal regimes for regulating firearms in the slave-owning South…

Outside of the South, many states emulated Massachusetts’s broad prohibition on public carry. But in the South, things were different. Kentucky judges, in particular, had adopted a more libertarian reading of the Constitution that rejected most forms of regulation as a violation of the right to bear arms…

Legal critics of the trial argued that Kentucky law had veered too far from mainstream American constitutional thought, which had always balanced the right of self-defense against other rights, such as the right to enjoy peace.

According to this way of thinking, Ward’s actions were not a vindication of American ideas of liberty, but a distortion of them, encouraging anarchy rather than true liberty.

Like news reports in the wake of modern massacres, news of Matthew F. Wards’ acquittal in the 1853 unprovoked shooting of Professor W.H.G. Butler led to “protests and denunciations across the United States… As one newspaper wrote, ‘An Act that would have hung him in Massachusetts, is justified in Kentucky.’…”

Will the 2018 protests be ineffectual? I hope not. I think not.

In the intervening 165 years, the divide between states that honor “mainstream American constitutional thought” which balance the right of self-defense with the right to enjoy peace and the states that elevate gun rights over all others has become a rift that is beyond comprehension.

It is also a rift that politicians on the right since Nixon have used to foment fear and horde power.

Mass murder affects more than schoolhouses

Although the Parkland rampage has been the trigger for current attention to America’s gun problem, it’s important to remember that mass shootings are not an exclusive to our schools.

But the weapon of choice is almost always the same:


Context for America’s murder-by-gun problem

firearms murder rate

Data (2010) from 23 high income countries reveals that the US gun homicide rate is 25.2 times higher than in other high-income countries. For 15- to 24-year-olds, the US gun homicide rate is 49.0 times higher.

Homicides, not suicides. Most gun deaths in the US are suicides; chew on that for a moment.

The researchers found that with less than half the total population in the study, of those who suffered a firearm death at the hands of another:

  • 90% of the women,
  • 91% of children aged 0 to 14 years,
  • 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years


Less than half the population, but 82% of all firearm homicides.

Researchers concluded:

The United States has an enormous firearm problem compared with other high-income countries. Americans are 10 times more likely to die as a result of a firearm compared with residents of these other high-income countries.

Evidence indicates that gun availability increases the incidence of homicide. International studies of high income countries typically find that firearm availability is positively correlated with firearm homicide and usually overall homicide. [10,13-17]

The countries:
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom (England and Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland) and the United States.

If any other “consumer product” yielded this kind of risk factor, we would act. You’ve far less likely to drown than be killed by a firearm, yet we have laws that require homeowners to fence backyard pools (attractive nuisance). You’ve far less likely to die in a fire, explicitly because we have fire codes. You’ve even less likely to die in an earthquake, again, the province of public safety building codes.

Firearm violence and death is a public safety issue. It’s past time to treat it like one.


* In this instance, Florida law shows that the state is related to the Confederacy although culturally Florida is not like the rest of the deep south.


Featured image, Clarksdale, Mississippi


By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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