Bad advice from Casa de la Carne

gun nuts
A poster next to the front door to the Casa de la Carne store in El Cangrejo. When taking this photo three store employees came out and said that this reporter should not be taking pictures and yes, this photo represents the business’s policy and opinion. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Translated fallacies of gringo gun culture

photo and notes by Eric Jackson

The poster above, roughly translated:


A reform about the carrying of weapons
and the defense of the home

* The police can’t be everywhere and are late in arriving [so] the father of the family must have facilities to get a weapon and defend his family.

* A person who defends his home against an intruding thief should not be detained by the police, it’s his right to defend his family and his property.

Where do we start? First of all, to notice that this is not only an appeal to change weapons laws, but to strike down Panamanian anti-discrimination and family laws, this country’s laws on homicides and assaults and standard police and court procedures when a person has been shot by someone else.

“Padre de familia” can generally mean parents, either father or mother, or just the male sire or adoptive parent of children on the premises. But here it is used in its singular, as in the old Roman paterfamilias, with all of the ancient privileges and exclusions that this implies. As in the father has this right but the mother doesn’t, as in “family” means a married couple of different genders with children to the exclusion of all other living arrangements. That idea flies in the face of changes in the law since the days when good entertainment was feeding the Christians to the lions down at the Colosseum. Certainly a change of the sort that the owner suggests implies the legalization of anti-discrimination provisions of Panama’s constitution and laws. And does it mean that a guy gets to kill an intruder on the premises occupied by his mistress as well as the place where his wife lives?

Panamanian law allows for certain presumptions and does in a way different from the Anglo-American Common Law recognize that humans are territorial animals and can be expected to use violence to defend their homes. That’s why they send the riot squad to a masse eviction, too. Some intruder in the home under cover of darkness might be presumed to be armed, or presumed to be there to assault, rape or kill rather than just to steal. But in general Panamanian law allows the use of deadly force to fend off a deadly assault but not to protect property alone.

The cop who comes to the scene of a fatal shooting and says something like “You shot this guy, Mr. Mangravita? Well, no problem. You’re from a good family.”? A dream of privilege occasionally enjoyed, but proper police procedure is to take the known shooter down to the station for questioning, and better yet to warn that person to contact a lawyer. The police detain those whom they know to have shot somebody, and in the end leave it for the courts to sort out. Anything else is a further erosion of an already badly damaged rule of law.

As public health advice, this appeal is replete with fallacies, but to start out on the subject of public health, let us note the record of this particular group of family companies. In 2001 in Colon one of their refrigerated trucks had a road accident and it was discovered that mislabeled Uruguayan beef was being imported here. Was it a real public health issue, or just a protectionist contrivance for the benefit of Panamanian ranchers? That can be debated but the government at the time banned Uruguayan beef because in that country they have aftosis, a contagious bovine disease. Frigoríficos Mangrafor SA was fined for the offense but the real damage was that the Mangravita family companies lost their contract to supply beef to McDonalds in Panama. A general contraction of its Casa de la Carne grocery stores ensued over the years that followed.

Back to the public health realities of guns. This reporter can tell the story from personal experience, but the statistical case is overwhelmingly that the firearm brought into a household for defense against criminal intruders is far more likely to figure in the death of a member of that household than of an invading criminal. Such weapons are far more often the instruments of suicides, criminal homicides against members of the family and accidental deaths in the family than they are the means by which a maleante who breaks in dies. That’s the public health reality of the firearm in the household to defend against criminals.

Or, actually, just a part of it. Is the weapon left in the home when the owner is away, and does someone break in to steal in that absence and add the gun to the booty? In that case there are the added public health calculation of yet one more stolen weapon circulating in Panama.

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