The National Rifle Association has long perpetuated the myth that Americans are under grave danger from hardened criminals who want to steal their property and exterminate their families. Whether it’s ridiculous
pronouncements like, “America, by its free and independent nature, is a breeding ground and safe haven for violent, illegal immigrant criminal gangs,” or morbid declarations such as, “I want carjackers dead. I want rapists dead. I want burglars dead. I want child molesters dead. I want the bad guys dead. No court case. No parole. No early release. I want 'em dead. Get a gun and when they attack you, shoot 'em," the NRA rarely misses an opportunity to stoke the paranoia of the gun industry’s customer base.
The truth is, however, that Americans are far more likely to be harmed by people they know in their everyday lives than faceless criminals. Far too often, perpetrators of homicide are family members, friends, significant others, co-workers, and acquaintances of their victims…and even fellow gun owners, as a recent story from Ohio tragically reveals.
On July 5, Mark Valentino was arrested and charged for the murder of his cousin and friend Hershell “Louis” Roberts in Licking County. Valentino admitted to shooting Roberts as well as stealing firearms and money from his home.
Sherriff Randy Thorp stated that Valentino and Roberts shared a love of target practice and often fired guns on a range in Roberts’ backyard. Roberts’ son-in-law, Jake Morgan, said that Valentino often took advantage of Roberts’ hospitality and generosity—Valentino would stay at his home for weeks at a time. Roberts was apparently either unaware of, or unconcerned about, Valentino’s Indiana criminal record, which included probation violations, bad checks, and even domestic violence.
When Roberts was found dead at his home, his 20 year-old son told investigators that Valentino had a long-standing interest in his father’s missing gun collection. Allegedly, Valentino shot Roberts after a dispute regarding two guns that Valentino sought for their value. “He needed the money that bad,” Morgan said. “[Roberts] would have given it to him, if [he] had it.” Morgan described Valentino as a man “with no conscience.”
Police arrested Valentino after a 15-mile pursuit that concluded when Valentino lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a ditch. According to Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt, Roberts’ firearms and the suspected murder weapon were found in the vehicle in the resulting search.
Valentino’s story bears eerie similarity to that of another individual “with no conscience” who preyed on a fellow gun enthusiast: Timothy McVeigh.
McVeigh bombed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, an act of terrorism which claimed 168 lives and injured more than 680 people. Well before the bombing, McVeigh was a regular on the gun show circuit, where he sold firearms through unregulated private sales (no background checks, no records of sale). While working at gun shows, McVeigh befriended an Arkansas gun dealer named Roger Moore. Moore testified that McVeigh stayed in his home from time to time as he traveled around the country. According to police, in order to fund the Oklahoma City bombing, McVeigh and Terry Nichols—his co-conspirator in the bombing—robbed Moore of his gun collection while holding him at gunpoint. Moore claims that he lost $60,000 worth of guns, jewels, silver bars and gold coins in the robbery.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, only 87 Americans were murdered during burglaries in 2008, despite the fact that only one out of every three American households now has a firearm. As one author recently noted, “Statistically, you had a better chance of being killed by bees.” There were 7,912 homicides in 2008 for which the FBI could establish a relationship between the murderer and the victim. 78% (6,170) of these victims knew their murderer—only 22% (1,742) were murdered by a stranger. Not only do 78% of victims know their murderer—43% of homicides are caused by simple arguments over money, property and other mundane matters. In comparison, only 9% of murders are gang-related.
The NRA’s scare tactics regarding the “criminal element” are an effective sales pitch and certainly better the gun industry. If an American is convinced that their family is under overwhelming threat from unknown outsiders, a gun purchase will seem like a wonderful idea, and he/she will certainly underestimate the harm that that gun could cause within their home while in the hands of someone they know and/or love.
Stories like that of Mark Valentino and Louis Roberts betray the NRA’s version of “reality,” depicting common scenarios where the “home invader” is someone you’ve welcomed in countless times, and where your firepower makes you a potential target and not someone to be avoided.