Note 1: The point of this article is not to fearmonger about crime — overall, violent crime has decreased significantly since the early 1990s and is currently at about the same level as violent crimes in 2016. The point of this article is to document a uniquely American phenomenon: the easy availability of firearms (see note 2) combined with the instability of the post-pandemic era (note 3) has created an atmosphere where fear, conflict, and hate result in firearm-related violence.
It is no coincidence that America also has the highest firearm-related death rate among its wealthy peer countries—the closest peer nation to America’s 12.21 firearm-related death rate per 100,000 people is Austria with 2.75 deaths and Switzerland with 2.64 deaths per 100,000 people. Numerous studies have found that developed nations with more guns have more homicides. The same pattern holds true across states: “states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide.”
Note 3: As the world plots a post-pandemic future, Americans are facing crushing food inflation, skyrocketing housing costs, record levels of adult depression, unfair wage stagnation, and a mediasphere that fearmongers about everything from migrants to transgender people to teachers. The resulting stew is uniquely American: an armed populace, mentally unwell, teetering on the edge of poverty, and deathly afraid of one another.
Encounters end in gunfire
A Florida couple opened fire on their pool cleaner, believing he was an intruder in their backyard. The homeowners, Bradley Hocevar, aged 57, and Jana Hocevar, 43, were watching a movie in their home on June 15 around 9 p.m. when Jana noticed a man walking around their pool. She locked the door and yelled to her husband that someone was in their backyard.
While his wife called 911, Bradley grabbed his Colt M4 carbine rifle, took a position behind his couch, and fired two shots at the pool cleaner. The man, Karl Polek, luckily was only hit with glass and shrapnel and fled. However, the blinds were still closed and Bradley continued to fire about 30 rounds in 90 seconds, believing the so-called intruder was still on his property.
The audio from the 911 call reveals Bradley Hocevar fired two rounds through the sliding glass door. Polek ran away after the first two rounds, but the Hocevars could not see because the blinds were closed and they were taking cover behind their couch.
The 911 dispatcher on the phone and Jana Hocevar repeatedly pleaded with Bradley Hocevar to put down the rifle and stop firing. But 47 seconds after the first two rounds, Bradley Hocevar fired a few more rounds. Finally, about 25 seconds later, Bradley Hocevar unloaded his AR-15′s magazine — meaning he fired 30 rounds in about 90 seconds, Gualtieri said.
Polek sustained minor injuries from shrapnel and flying glass, but was not hit directly by the bullets.
Under Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law, no charges will be filed against the Hocevars.
A Florida woman was charged with manslaughter earlier this month for shooting her neighbor through her front door after an altercation with the neighbor’s children.
Susan Louise Lorincz, 58, who is white, was allegedly involved in a years-long feud with her neighbor, Ajike Owens, a Black mother of four. According to other neighbors, Lorincz had a history of antagonizing local children, calling them slurs, and “waving guns at them.”
Phyllis Wills, 33, has lived in the neighborhood for about 15 years. She knew Owens and knew of Lorincz “because she used to come outside all the time and harass our kids,” she said. “Everybody in this neighborhood has feuded with this lady over our children.”
She said Lorincz had a problem with children simply being children.
“Our kids used to play in the field over there all the time. It’s an apartment complex. These are children who, you know, they’re, they’re going to do things. … Every time they’ve went even in the patch of grass over there, she would be like, ‘Get off of my lawn, you b—- or you retards or you N-word.’ She would wave guns at them,” Wills said.
Events came to a head on June 2 when Lorincz took one of Owens’ children’s tablets and threw a roller skate at her 10-year-old son. Owens then went over to Lorincz’s house to confront her, where Lorincz shot through her closed door, striking and killing Owens in front of her son.
Lorincz claimed that she was acting in self-defense and was in fear for her life. Detectives, however, determined Lorincz’s actions “were not justifiable under Florida law,” the sheriff’s office said.
A Kentucky woman shot and killed her Hispanic Uber driver in Texas after falsely believing she was being kidnapped and taken to Mexico.
Phoebe Copas, 48, was visiting her boyfriend in El Paso, Texas, when she caught an Uber ride from 52-year-old Daniel Piedra Garcia at 2 p.m on June 16. During the trip, Copas saw traffic signs for Juarez, Mexico, a town roughly seven miles across the border, and believed Piedra was kidnapping her. Allegedly without warning, Copas pulled a handgun from her purse and shot Piedra in the back of his head. The vehicle crashed into barriers before coming to a stop on a freeway.
The area where the car crashed was “not in close proximity of a bridge, port of entry or other area with immediate access to travel into Mexico,” the affidavit says. “The roadway (Copas) was traveling on is a normal route to drive to the destination requested.”
Before calling 911, police say, Copas took a photo of Piedra after he was shot and sent it to her boyfriend via text message. Officers arrived at the scene and saw Copas being helped out of the car by her boyfriend.
Piedra was taken to a hospital where he was declared brain dead and taken off life support. Copas is being held on murder charges and a $1.5 million bond.
Earlier this year, Keep Track wrote about the shootings of Ralph Yarl—a Black teenager who mistakenly rang the wrong doorbell—and Kaylin Gillis—a woman killed after pulling into the wrong driveway. Not long after making that post, two Texas cheerleaders were shot after accidentally opening the door of the wrong car.
On an April night, four teenagers were carpooling home to Round Rock (near Austin) from cheerleading practice outside Houston. The girls used the parking lot of a grocery store in Elgin, near Round Rock, as a carpool meeting point. One of the cheerleaders, Heather Roth. left her friend’s car and opened the door of a car that looked like hers, but wasn’t. Shocked to find a strange man in the passenger seat, she quickly returned to her friend’s vehicle.
But the stranger then approached their car. Roth rolled down the window to apologize. The stranger, later identified as 25-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., opened fire, striking Roth and her friend, Payton Washington. While Roth escaped the harrowing encounter with just a graze wound, Washington was struck in the leg and back.
The cheerleaders drove off while the shots continued to fire. Washington said she began to notice she was having trouble breathing and realized she had been shot.
“We were tryin’ to get away. I really was just telling myself to breathe. It was hard to breathe because of my diaphragm,” she said. “I was trying to stay as calm as possible for the other people in the car. I could tell how sad and scared they were.” […]
“My spleen was shattered. My stomach had two holes in it. And my diaphragm had two holes in it. And then they had to remove a lobe from my pancreas. I had 32 staples,” said Washington.
Shoplifting leads to murder
24-year-old Banko Brown, an unhoused, Black transgender man, was fatally shot by a Walgreens security guard in April 2023 for attempting to steal soda and snacks. Brown can be seen attempting to leave a San Francisco Walgreens on security camera footage when security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony attempts to stop him. The two get into a brief shoving match before Anthony punches Brown to the floor, putting him in a chokehold. When Brown manages to get to his feet, he grabs his bag and backs out and away from the store entrance. The two appear to exchange words when Anthony draws a gun and shoots Brown from a few feet away.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who was appointed last year to replace progressive D.A. Chesa Boudin, declined to bring criminal charges against Anthony, saying her office believes he acted in self-defense. According to the guard, but without any video or eyewitness corroboration, Brown threatened to stab him prior to the shooting. Police did not find a knife in Brown’s possession.
A different shooting involving a Walgreens employee occurred in Tennessee roughly a week after Banko Brown was killed. Team leader Mitarius Boyd, 21, allegedly witnessed two women placing items into a bag and leaving the store. Boyd followed the pair to their car where he found them putting items into the trunk of their car. As he confronted them, he said one of the women pulled out a can of mace and sprayed it at him.
Boyd responded by pulling his semi-automatic pistol and shooting at the women. 24-year-old Travonsha Ferguson, who was seven months pregnant, was struck by the gunfire. The women fled in the car to a hospital. The doctors performed an emergency C-section, saving the child. According to the most recent news reports, Ferguson also survived.
Boyd told authorities he was in fear for his life when he fired his weapon. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department is working with the District Attorney’s office to determine if Boyd’s self-defense claim is valid.
A South Carolina convenience store owner shot and killed a Black 14-year-old after wrongly accusing the teen of shoplifting bottles of water.
Rick Chow, 58, confronted Cyrus Carmack-Belton when the teen tried to leave the store after picking up and setting down four bottles of water. Chow and his son allegedly believed Carmack-Belton shoplifted the water, though he did not. After arguing with the pair, Carmack-Belton took off running. Chow, armed with a pistol, and his son chased the teen towards an apartment complex. At some point, Chow’s son said Carmack-Belton had a gun, prompting Chow to shoot Carmack-Belton in the back.
Carmack-Belton was pronounced dead at the hospital. The Sheriff’s office said a gun was recovered near his body, but “there was no evidence the teen ever pointed the weapon at Chow or his son.”
Chow was arrested and charged with murder. Media reports later uncovered numerous previous incidents where Chow shot at shoplifters or suspected shoplifters, including one confrontation over $6 worth of items that led to Chow shooting a man in the leg.
Chow’s conduct in both cases “did not meet the requirements under South Carolina law to support criminal charges,” [Richland County Sheriff’s Department] said, adding authorities made that determination because he wasn’t the instigator in either incident.
In an unusual case out of Detroit, a gas station clerk has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after a shoplifter shot numerous customers when the clerk wouldn’t unlock the store doors.
Al-Hassan Aiyash, 22, was working at a Mobil gas station in central Detroit around 3 a.m. on May 6. A customer, Samuel Anthony McCray, 27, became upset when his credit card was declined for a $4 purchase. He attempted to leave the store with the items but Aiyash remotely locked the doors, keeping McCray and three other customers inside.
For almost eight minutes, McCray became irate and the environment became “increasingly hostile” as the customers begged, pleaded and screamed to be let out. They offered to pay for McCray’s $4 purchase of iced tea and donuts, [Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Anna] Posigian said.
McCray allegedly threatened to shoot “everybody” in the store if Aiyash did not unlock the doors. According to the prosecutor’s office, the clerk unlocked the doors shortly before the shooting but did not tell any of the customers. McCray shot all three customers, killing one and wounding the other two.
McCray was charged with murder and attempted murder and is awaiting trial.
Felon-in-possession struck down
As I was writing this piece, a federal judge ruled that, under the Supreme Court’s Bruen precedent, permanently disarming people convicted of felonies violates the Second Amendment.
District Judge Carlton Reeves, an Obama appointee, wrote that he had no choice but to reach his decision based on the Supreme Court’s requirement that any restrictions on firearm possession must have existed in the late-1700s to mid-1800s:
Firearm restrictions are now presumptively unlawful unless the government can “demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2126 (2022)…the standard announced by the Supreme Court in Bruen is the law of the land. It must be enforced. Under that standard, the government has failed to meet its burden.
The federal felon‐in‐possession ban was enacted in 1938, not 1791 or 1868—the years the Second and Fourteenth Amendments were ratified. The government’s brief in this case does not identify a “well‐established and representative historical analogue” from either era supporting the categorical disarmament of tens of millions of Americans who seek to keep firearms in their home for self‐defense. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. at 2132; see Gabriel J. Chin, The New Civil Death: Rethinking Punishment in the Era of Mass Conviction, 160 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1789, 1791 (2012) (explaining that “tens of millions” of free‐world Americans have criminal records).
Judge Reeves has engaged extensively with the problem Bruen created: Asking judges to step into the role of colonial and civil war era historians without any training. While considering this case, Reeves asked both the man convicted of being a felon-in-possession, Jessie Bullock, and the government if he should appoint a historian to assess the historical record regarding restrictions on firearm ownership by those convicted of crimes. Both parties said no.
This Court is not a trained historian. The Justices of the Supreme Court, distinguished as they may be, are not trained historians. We lack both the methodological and substantive knowledge that historians possess. The sifting of evidence that judges perform is different than the sifting of sources and methodologies that historians perform. See id. at 2177 (Breyer, J., dissenting) (“Courts are, after all, staffed by lawyers, not historians.”). And we are not experts in what white, wealthy, and male property owners thought about firearms regulation in 1791. Yet we are now expected to play historian in the name of constitutional adjudication.
In reviewing the briefing and authorities presented in this case, and after conducting its own research, this Court discovered a serious disconnect between the legal and historical communities. Simply put, “[t]he firearms history that appears in law journals and court briefs is not the firearms history familiar to many mainstream historians.” A Right to Bear Arms? The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment 187 (Jennifer Tucker et al. eds., 2019) [hereinafter A Right to Bear Arms].
I’ll end this post with some of Judge Reeves’ closing remarks:
Bruen shows us that originalism is now the Supreme Court’s dominant mode of constitutional interpretation. This Court is not so sure it should be.
For one, the originalist case for originalism is lacking. This Court has yet to see evidence proving “that the original meaning of Article III of the Constitution included the understanding that courts should interpret the Constitution based on its original meanings.” Erwin Chemerinsky, Worse than Nothing: The Dangerous Fallacy of Originalism 82 (2022) [hereinafter Worse than Nothing]. In other words, it is not clear that founding‐era Americans collectively agreed that for time immemorial, their descendants would be bound by the founding generation’s views on how the Constitution should be read.
This Court is also not sure that ceding this much power to the dead hand of the past is so wise. “The American people learned a great deal during the early years of their Republic—including that many of their most cherished beliefs and firmly held ideas were either wrong or unworkable.” Larry D. Kramer, The Supreme Court 2000 Term Foreword: We the Court, 115 Harv. L. Rev. 4, 12 (2001). The Framers themselves “knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 578‐79 (2003).
We have seen this evolution time and time again.
Many of our Nation’s finest moments came when we rejected the original public meaning of a Constitutional provision. Brown v. Board of Education rejected the original interpretation of “equal protection,” which had led to “separate but equal” schools. Worse than Nothing at 68‐69. The original understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment limited women “to fulfil the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.” Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130, 141 (1872) (Bradley, J., concurring). It had to go. Earlier Americans might not have understood the notion of “due process” to include marriage equality. See Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015). But future generations did. “We changed.” Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, 64 F. Supp. 3d 906, 922 (S.D. Miss. 2014).
Hewing to outdated ideas no longer served “We the People.” Hewing too closely to the past reduced our ability to make America “more perfect.” As a result, “new constitutional principles . . . emerged to meet the challenges of a changing society.” Thurgood Marshall, Reflections on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, 101 Harv. L. Rev. 1, 5 (1987). And in this way, “the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not.” Id.
Let’s be clear about what this means for originalism. The next generation will have its own conceptions of liberty. It will interpret the principles of the Constitution, enduring as they are, differently than this generation has interpreted them. Change is unstoppable. And to the extent Bruen and decisions like it try to stop that change, they will not last long. The only question is how long the People will let them remain.