Were there more tragedies around the world this year than in most years? It feels that way, as if the tempo of human cruelty grew at a steady pace throughout the year that wrung every last ounce of shock and sorrow from us. One tragedy that hit me especially hard as a Montanan living in Germany was the death of Diren Dede, a German exchange student who was shot and killed in April for trespassing in a Missoula man’s garage. The vigilante act of one Montana homeowner destroyed a family and gave the world one more display of the ugly face of America’s gun culture.
Markus Kaarma, the man who shot and killed Dede, was found guilty of deliberate homicide last week, a verdict that brought relief and a sense of justice to many. A jury agreed that there are limits to what are considered reasonable acts of self defense under the “stand-your-ground” and “Castle Doctrine” laws that have proliferated throughout the U.S. But the verdict in Kaarma’s trial will do little to change a culture that perpetuates gun rights as a sacred part of individual liberty. When the Montana State Legislature convenes next month, it will consider further expansions of gun rights, including “a bill that would prevent state-run universities from banning firearms on campus, [and] a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in cities and towns without a permit.”
I gave up my right to own a gun when I moved from Montana to Germany, a country where gun ownership is a privilege rather than a right. The chance that one of my children will be shot to death is lower in Germany than in the States. NPR Berlin reported last year that while Germany has a relatively high rate of gun ownership, it also has a low rate of gun homicides compared to the U.S. One reason is that gun ownership in Germany must be justified as “necessary,” and personal protection or self-defense do not count for this purpose. Germany also requires owners to store guns in a locked safe and allows law enforcement to make random house checks for compliance.
Diren Dede’s parents said their son described Missoula as a paradise. That’s how my children describe the state that they are so proud to call home. We express our sorrow along with many others in Montana, Germany, and elsewhere. The tragedy that struck this German exchange student in paradise shows why I’m willing to give up one of my civil rights for the privilege of living in a more secure society.