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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Milwaukee Shootout: The Movie

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The hottest shoot-’em-up filmed in Milwaukee isn’t the upcoming Dillinger movie starring Johnny Depp. It’s a video posted on the popular Web site YouTube by the Milwaukee Police Department. Police claim they posted the Milwaukee shootout filmed by a surveillance camera at Villard Food & Liquor on the Web site to seek assistance in identifying an alleged shoplifter involved in the gunfight. But the thousands of computer hits generated across the country have nothing to do with any sudden, overwhelming desire of the nation’s citizenry to assist Milwaukee in cracking down on shoplifting.

The video offers all the sleazy attraction of a horrible car crash. Also, because all of the involved parties in the shootout and a violent beating that preceded it are minorities, the video apparently has become must-see TV for the nation’s racists.

One particularly obscene rant posted on YouTube (and since removed) labels all the participants and even an endangered bystander as monkeys. “I don’t get it,” says the writer, who actually has no idea how ignorant he really is. “We gave them jobs, food and a place to sleep. Take them out of the cotton fields and look what happens.”

But, of course, the real national and local debate stemming from the video is the argument over the desirability of carrying handguns. Gun enthusiasts who equate carrying handguns with public safety consider the video an argument for “the more, the merrier.”

After an apparent shoplifter is surrounded by four men and beaten with a baseball bat, he leaves the store and returns later with a gun. You see the man striding quickly through the door, determined to create mayhem. Then you see him stop short without even raising his weapon when he sees that the clerk behind the counter has a gun trained on him.

As the customer meekly retreats from the store, however, he turns and begins firing. The store clerk opens fire at the same time. Incredibly, a woman in a green jacket calmly walks between the shooters and out of the store in the middle of the gunfight. Only fortune and bad aim prevented a public massacre.

Dangers of Concealed Carry
Any rational viewing of the video makes it a far cry from an NRA recruiting commercial. In fact, it undercuts just about every argument gun supporters make for the proliferation of handguns. The video clearly shows how the easy availability of guns escalates an already violent society into a potentially deadly, more violent society.

The shootout is the most shocking event in the video. The second most shocking is four men violently beating a man with fists and a baseball bat. Reportedly, it was over the theft of a stick of deodorant. With guns so readily available, any victim of a one-sided gang beating thinks he has an easy means to even up the score. But, of course, when guns are everywhere, you never know when somebody else is going to get the drop on you.

Concealed-carry supporters see that as incredibly good news. To them, it’s just great that an angry victim of a beating bent on blowing away store employees was driven away by a hail of bullets in the other direction. But most of us are far more likely to identify with innocent customers in a convenience store on a Sunday afternoon, when this barrage of gunfire took place.

Do we really want to live in a society where such shootouts can suddenly break out anywhere, anytime? What kind of public safety is that? Another basic premise of concealed carry is refuted by this video: the claim that bad guys with guns will somehow make a rational decision not to use them if they think their intended victims might also be armed.

Golly, do you think anyone would have a clue that a liquor store where shoplifters are beaten with a baseball bat might possibly have a gun behind the counter as well? The protection of private property and the shooting of bad guys are so widely supported in our society that some were outraged to learn the police had asked the district attorney to determine whether the store clerk should be charged as a felon illegally in possession of a firearm.

They needn’t have worried. A few days later, the deputy district attorney announced that the clerk would not be charged, citing self-defense. Prosecutors know juries are unlikely to convict store clerks for protecting their businesses with deadly weapons unless the criminal violations and reckless endangerment of the public are overwhelming. And, maybe, not even then.

But the next time the Legislature tries to put even more guns on our streets, think about getting caught in the crossfire of more Sunday afternoon shootouts in Milwaukee.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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