The past week has been marked by yet more uniquely American shooting tragedies: On Thursday, Ralph Yarl, a Black teen in Missouri, was shot in the head by an 84-year-old white man after Yarl mistook his house for a different one and rang the doorbell. Then, over the weekend, Kaylin A. Gillis, 20, was shot and killed in a rural area of New York after she pulled into the wrong driveway, prompting the 65-year-old homeowner to shoot her. Yarl survived the shooting and was recently released from the hospital; Gillis was pronounced dead at the scene.
The incidents can’t be taken in isolation of each other: They speak not only to the dangers of widely accessible firearms, but to the culture of paranoia and fearmongering that the gun lobby has pushed for decades. As New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie noted in a Monday TikTok, home intrusion—particularly by “urban youth,” aka a Black teen like Yarl—is “exactly the scenario” the gun lobby has taught “white homeowners,” especially older ones, that they need firearms to prepare for.
“This scenario of a young Black person coming to your home, probably a criminal, whom you can then shoot, is exactly what so many mouthpieces for the gun industry have been selling for decades,” Bouie said. “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.”
The gun lobby has also continually pushed for “stand your ground” laws—made infamous after being used to justify George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin—in recent years. These laws remove the duty to retreat before using lethal force, giving legal clearance to shoot and kill someone, even when they aren’t immediately threatening you, and have been widely criticized by gun safety advocates as encouraging gun owners to shoot first and think later.
Kevin D. Monahan, the man who shot and killed Gillis, “fired at least two shots,” according to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Gillis had been driving herself and three friends to a friend’s house, and mistakenly pulled into Monahan’s driveway instead. “Monahan was uncooperative with the investigation and refused to exit his residence to speak with police. He was later taken into custody with the assistance of the New York State Police Special Operation Response Team after several hours,” the department said in a news release. The statement confirmed that Monahan has been charged with murder in the second degree.
Andrew Lester, who shot Yarl, was taken into custody for just two hours before being released on Thursday. On Monday, he was charged with two felonies. Police say Lester claimed he was “scared to death” by Yarl’s size, and “believed someone was attempting to break into the house.” Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said at a news conference that he believes “there was a racial component to this case.” The shooting reflects the reality that, as Bouie points out in his TikTok, Black kids are rarely given the benefit of the doubt, and racist perceptions of them as inherently dangerous are threats to their lives.
An important through-line in all of this is the innate danger of gun ownership. These men would have done far less damage without firearms.