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Black Mother of Four Shot and Killed by Neighbor Who Had Called Family Racist Slurs; Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action Respond

June 6, 2023

MARION COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, both part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots network, released the following statement in response to the shooting of Ajike “AJ” Owens, a Black mother of four, on Friday night. While details are still emerging, reporting shows the shooter, also a woman, “engaged” with Owens’ children and threw a pair of skates, hitting the children, who told their mother. AJ then went to the neighbor’s home to confront her and was shot on her doorstep, and later pronounced dead. No arrest has been made. 

“As a Black woman who is also a mother of four, I am outraged and heartbroken about the murder of AJ Owens,” said Angela Ferrell-Zabala, executive director of Moms Demand Action. “Yet again, thanks to our country’s lax gun laws and hate-fueled violence, four children will grow up without a mother. All for what? Stand Your Ground laws and the “shoot first” culture they instill continue to put Black people and people of color in danger. These laws empower shooters to instigate violence or act on unjustified fear – and then claim self-defense and avoid accountability.”

“We should not have to live in fear that an argument with a neighbor could end in gunfire,” said Alexis Dorman, a Florida Students Demand Action volunteer. “Yet, four children are now left without a mother, and their lives are forever scarred by gun violence. Florida lawmakers need to wake up and realize they’re enabling tragedies in our state.” 

“More guns do not make us safer, yet Florida lawmakers continue to enact policies that prioritize the interest of the gun lobby over the lives of Floridians,” said Katie Hathaway, a volunteer with the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action. “This is the shameful American reality  — one where paranoid individuals, armed with deadly weapons, can shoot and kill anyone with no warning.” 

Florida was the first state to pass a modern Shoot First law, which lets people kill anywhere and use deadly force even when they can clearly and safely walk away. These laws effectively make murder legal. They also foster a shoot-first culture, encouraging people to shoot and kill as a first option rather than a last. It’s time to repeal this deadly law that gives people the right to seek out dangerous situations, shoot first, ask questions later, then claim self-defense. Travyvon Martin was out for a walk in his father’s neighborhood when a man followed him, then shot and killed him – the shooter claimed self-defense and was found not guilty of murder even though he followed and approached Trayvon who was unarmed, minding his own business, simply out for a walk while Black. 

Shoot First laws put Black people and people of color at further risk of hate-fueled violence or violence fueled by implicit bias and unconscious fear. Time and again, shooters feel empowered to instigate violence or act on unjustified fear and then claim self-defense under Stand Your Ground. In Shoot First or Stand Your Ground states, homicides in which white shooters kill Black victims are deemed justifiable five times more frequently than when the situation is reversed. The implementation of Florida’s Shoot First law was associated with significant increases in both monthly homicide rates (24 percent) and an even larger increase in monthly firearm homicide rates (32 percent).

In an average year, 2,989 people are killed by guns in Florida, and over 5,200 more are shot and wounded. Gun violence costs Florida $40.3 billion each year, of which $875.9 million is paid by taxpayers. More information on gun violence in Florida is available here.

If you are interested in speaking with a Florida Moms Demand Action or Students Demand Action volunteer, or a policy expert, please reach out to [email protected].

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