Numerous shootings of people who have mistakenly approached the wrong property have raised alarm among gun control advocates, as the United States faces what one columnist called the effects of a "national experiment in freely giving deadly weapons to anyone who wants one."
Wednesday morning brought the latest news of a young person who was shot after making a common mistake, as a man in the Austin, Texas area was arrested for opening fire on a group of teenage girls after they mistook his vehicle for their own in an H-E-B supermarket parking lot.
Payton Washington, 18, was shot twice and is in critical condition at a nearly intensive care unit, while Heather Roth was grazed by a bullet and was treated at the scene. Roth told reporters that the girls approached the car of the suspect, Pedro Tello Rodriguez, and opened the door before realizing it wasn't theirs.
Rodriguez got out of the car and began shooting at Washington and Roth as well as two other high school students they were with. The girls were members of a cheerleading team with Woodlands Elite Generals and were preparing for the World Championships in Orlando this weekend.
"We are becoming a heavily armed nation, so fearful and angry and hair-trigger anxious that gun murders are now just the way in which we work out our frustrations."
The shooting took place days after 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was fatally shot in Hebron, New York, after mistakenly driving up the wrong driveway with a group of friends while looking for a friend's house. A 65-year-old man named Kevin Monahan has been charged with second-degree murder.
The group had already realized their mistake and turned around when Gillis was shot on Saturday night.
"There were no words exchanged," Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey J. Murphy told reporters. "They were turning around, leaving... there certainly was no threat."
As Common Dreamsreported Monday, 16-year-old Ralph Yarl was shot in the head and arm as he stood on the front porch of a home in Kansas City, Missouri where he believed his younger brothers were. He had mistakenly arrived at the wrong address and the homeowner, Andrew Lester, shot Yarl without "any words" being exchanged, according to prosecutors. Yarl had surgery to remove the bullets and was able to walk out of the hospital on Sunday and is expected to make a full recovery.
Prosecutors say "there was a racial component to the case" involving Yarl, who is Black.
Both Missouri and Texas have so-called "stand your ground" laws which permit people to use deadly force without retreating first if they believe they're being threatened with a crime, including robbery or burglary. Stand your ground laws apply "anyplace where a person has a legal right to be, not just at home," according to The New York Times.
About 30 states have stand your ground laws, and the majority have been enacted in the last 25 years—with Republican lawmakers enabling citizens to use deadly force to protect themselves from criminals even as crime rates significantly declined over the last three decades.
"This is literally the exact path everyone had predicted for years that the Republican obsession with looser gun laws and 'stand your ground' would lead," said podcast host and writer Fred Wellman. "We said it would get innocents killed. They don't care. That's the price we pay for their fear, racism, and guns."
Ari Freilich, state policy director for the gun control advocacy group Giffords Law Center, told The Guardian Wednesday that none of the suspects in the three cases should be permitted to invoke stand your ground laws in their defense.
"There's no state in the country where the existing laws are such that you can lawfully shoot someone for ringing the doorbell at the wrong house," said Freilich, adding that the cases "fit the pattern we've seen over and over again of racist fear intersecting with really widespread unvetted firearm access, combining in our country to make gun violence the leading cause of death by far for young Black men."
While New York does not have a stand your ground law, gun control advocates this week said the same worldview that has driven states to adopt such statutes, and led the U.S. population to amass about 120 privately owned guns for every 100 Americans, was also likely in play when Monahan allegedly shot Gillis.
"This week, this country is convulsed by a series of horrific shootings where mistakes and minor slights are being met by gunfire," said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on the Senate floor on Wednesday. "We are becoming a heavily armed nation, so fearful and angry and hair-trigger anxious that gun murders are now just the way in which we work out our frustrations."
Times columnist Jamelle Bouie said the shootings demonstrate the consequences of the $28 billion gun industry's relentless selling of "the fantasy of blowing away anyone who intrudes on your property."
"Wrong-house shootings are a bleak reminder how many of our fellow Americans are armed and waiting for an opportunity to kill," said writer and historian Peter Manseau. "Expect more in the future: It's what happens when people have been sold weapons as 'home defense' for decades; they are desperate to get what they paid for."
"What 'home defense' has done is put Chekhov's gun in millions of American homes," he added. "Sooner or later, many will go off. And when they do, for the most part they will not be used for actual protection. They'll shoot innocent strangers, or family members, or the gun owners themselves."