3 mistakes end in 3 shootings: Experts divided on whether they represent a national trend

April 20, 2023 in International

A trio of unprovoked shootings have rekindled debate about the prevalence of guns in American life.

In the span of a single week, three separate shootings that occurred after victims mistakenly approached the wrong home or vehicle are raising questions about the proliferation of guns in American society.

Last Thursday, Andrew Lester, an 84-year-old white man, allegedly shot Ralph Yarl, a Black 16-year-old, after Yarl rang Lester’s doorbell in Kansas City, Mo., thinking his two younger siblings were inside. Yarl had the wrong address, and Lester, who told police he feared for his safety, opened fire.

Two days later in upstate New York, Kaylin Gillis, a 20-year-old white woman, was shot and killed, allegedly by Kevin Monahan, a 65-year-old white homeowner, while driving in a car that mistakenly turned in to the wrong driveway. Monahan was not cooperative with police, who, after booking him into Warren County Jail, said he had no reason to feel threatened.

On Tuesday, two members of an elite competitive cheerleading team in Austin, Texas, were shot by Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., 25, after one of the teens reportedly tried mistakenly to get into the wrong car after practice. One of the victims, 18-year-old Payton Washington, who was shot in the leg and back, was flown to a nearby hospital in critical condition and remains in the ICU.

While the circumstances of what led up to each shooting differ slightly, in each case the gunmen opened fire without warning in the apparent defense of their property.

“I do not think that the shootings are a coincidence,” Kirk Burkhalter, a New York Law School professor and former 20-year veteran of the New York Police Department, told Yahoo News. “As simplistic as this sounds, these shootings would not have occurred if not for the proliferation of guns. This is what 911 is for.”

Going a step further, New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, in a post on TikTok, said these kinds of shootings, particularly involving young Black people like Yarl, are “exactly what so many mouthpieces for the gun industry have been selling for decades.”

“It’s part of the pitch, that you own one of these weapons … to defend your homestead, and from the image of urban crime, of urban disorder — of, essentially, Black people,” Bouie said.

But other experts are reluctant to assign much sociological significance to the shootings.

“They are geographically distant from one another and the facts are different,” Kenneth Gray, a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven, told Yahoo News. “I would not link these as having some connection between [one another] other than the fact that just the similarity of the type of situation.”

Gray, who spent 24 years at the FBI, also pushed back on the criticism being leveled against law enforcement, saying that gunmen have been charged for the shootings.

But many Americans could not help but see a pattern in the latest incidents. In a Twitter post, Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, wrote, “It’s the guns.”