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The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

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Two shootings in two days: How a culture of fear perpetuates gun violence

The+shootings+of+Ralph+Yaurel+and+Kaylin+Gillis+are+sparking+a+national+conversation+about+%E2%80%9Cstand+your+ground%E2%80%9D+laws+and+the+culture+of+fear+that+allows+acts+of+violence+like+these+to+continue.
Megan McKnight
The shootings of Ralph Yaurel and Kaylin Gillis are sparking a national conversation about “stand your ground” laws and the culture of fear that allows acts of violence like these to continue.

Two recent cases involving unprovoked attacks on innocent young people are sparking national outrage after both attackers are citing “stand your ground laws” to argue their innocence. These attacks, however, are suggestive of a much larger problem in our country. Americans are living in a culture of fear perpetuated by the media who prey on older generations, and laws that convince them to rely on firearms for protection.

Ralph Yaurel, a 16-year-old African American teenager, was left in critical condition after being shot in the head and arm in Kansas City, Missouri on April 13, all because of a simple misunderstanding. Yaurel’s mother asked him to pick up his brothers from a house they had been staying at, but mistakenly told him the wrong address. Yaurel arrived at the house his mother told him to go to and politely rang the doorbell, expecting to be greeted by his brothers. When Andrew Lester, the homeowner, saw Yaurel standing on the porch, he pulled out his gun and shot Yaurel once in the head, then again in the arm despite Yaurel already having fallen to the ground in pain.

Yaurel then got up and started running for safety, and could hear Lester yelling something behind him. A neighbor soon called 911, and Yaurel was brought to a hospital where he remained in critical condition for nearly a week.

Lester has admitted that he and Yaurel did not exchange words before the shooting, and that he was supposedly scared of Yaurel’s race and size. According to the probable cause statement, Lester believed that he was preventing an intruder from breaking into the house, claiming that Yaurel was pulling on the door handle. “He believed he was protecting himself from a physical confrontation and could not take the chance of the male coming in,” it reads. The document also states that Lester called 911 immediately after the shooting, which directly contrasts Yaurel’s testimony.

Lester has been charged with assault in the first degree and armed criminal action, both felony charges in the state of Missouri. He is still awaiting trial.

Just two days later, on April 15, a similar case occurred when Kaylin Gillis, a 20 year old white woman, was shot and killed in her car in rural New York after her boyfriend mistakenly pulled into the wrong driveway. According to Blake Walsh, Gillis’s boyfriend, he was driving the car with Gillis in the passenger seat and two of their mutual friends in the back. The group was searching for a party, but mistakenly pulled into the driveway of the wrong address. Walsh realized his mistake and started backing out when a fatal gunshot went through the windshield and struck Gillis in the chest. 

Walsh immediately sped away from the scene, and the group drove around for five miles in a panic, desperate to find cell service to call for help. When paramedics arrived, they were unable to revive her, and Gillis was pronounced dead on the scene. Kevin Monahan, the man who shot and killed Gillis, has been charged with second degree murder. 

Both of these similar cases occurring within such a small time frame begs the question: What could have possibly possessed both of these attackers to instinctively open fire when faced with an unexpected situation?

The answer lies in the collective culture of fear that persists throughout the United States. It can be seen in our laws, our media coverage and the basic tenets upon which this country was built.

In over 28 states, it is legal to defend one’s property with firearms if there is sufficient reason to pull out a gun. These are called “stand your ground” laws, and they have become a widely accepted form of defense. If you believe that someone is breaking into your house, you’re supposed to reach for your firearm. It’s “the American way” that has led to a 10% increase in homicides. Additionally, data has shown that when the case involves a white shooter and a Black victim, the shooter is 10 times more likely to have his case deemed justified than if it was a white victim.

PV social studies teacher Joe Youngbauer thinks that these laws can be potentially dangerous when used incorrectly. “Both stand your ground laws and the castle doctrine lead to more confrontations between a property owner and a real or perceived intruder,” he said. “Currently over half of the states in America have some form of stand your ground law on the books.”

It is widely believed that Lester will attempt to use Missouri’s “stand your ground” law to argue that he was simply protecting his home since he believed Yaurel was a burglar. However, as Kansas City criminal defense attorney Kevin Jamison points out, this law may not be enough to protect Lester. “Stand your ground doesn’t come into play unless the person is attacking you,” he said. “There’s been nothing that indicates the young man was threatening the older gentleman.” 

And it’s not just state laws. National laws surrounding gun ownership allow this culture to continue permeating modern society. It goes as far back as the second amendment, a misconstrued piece of American heritage which protects the right to bear arms. In colonial days, the law actually meant that the country had the right to keep an army at all times, not that individual settlers should have guns. However, no matter the original intent, individuals such as Lester and Monahan benefit from the law’s twisted interpretation in the modern world when it is used to defend shooters in cases such as these.

Even the modern day media seems to be obsessed with perpetuating this gun-crazy culture by fear mongering older audiences, causing them to panic and shoot at even the slightest chance of a suspicious situation. Fox News is infamous for this exact marketing technique, with Tucker Carlson spewing exaggerated stories about the government’s intention to take away citizens’ protection.

What’s worse is that the age of the average cable news viewer is between 55-65 years old, making up the most easily manipulated age group in the population. On top of that, in 2019, 53% of Fox News viewers identified as Republican. So not only are news channels capitalizing elders’ fears, but they’re actually confining them to an echo chamber of  information they already believe, causing them to cling to their guns even tighter.

Monahan fits this description almost perfectly. He is currently 65 years old and identifies as a Republican, making it extremely likely that he would watch cable news. When he saw a random car pulling into his driveway on the night of April 15, he likely recalled prior media coverage, and reached for his gun out of fear that he would become another news story.

Youngbauer also believes that the media often exaggerates stories to gain viewers, but audiences must always make an effort to question the information they consume. “Even though it isn’t always easy….as consumers of media we must ask critical questions of information and place value in more than one perspective. Media in America is a business and these companies want readers and viewers,” he said.

This culture of fear has killed two people in just two days and cannot be allowed to persist in this country. When gun violence is allowed to continue and even encouraged, we can no longer call ourselves the greatest country in the world.

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About the Contributor
Megan McKnight
Megan McKnight, Copy Editor
Megan is currently a senior at Pleasant Valley High School, and is one of the new copy editors for the online Spartan Shield. She has many different interests, but she is most passionate about literature and creative writing, and intends to major in English in college. Therefore, she is involved in many rigorous English classes and a member of writing club. Furthermore, Megan volunteers at Hopewell Elementary School library, helping to organize different book series and contribute to the general upkeep of the library. She has had the opportunity to advance her writing skills through these experiences, which she hopes will help her achieve her dream of becoming a full-time author. Outside of school, Megan enjoys baking, spending time with her family, and working on her personal writing projects. Megan is incredibly excited to be a copy editor for the online Spartan Shield, and can’t wait to contribute to the paper!  
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Two shootings in two days: How a culture of fear perpetuates gun violence