I am neither happy nor proud that my predictions and desires made in this newspaper on June 7, 2012, about the outcome of the prosecution of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin were substantially realized.
In my commentary, “Stand your ground needs to go,” I argued that a prosecutor and jury could not bring Trayvon back, Zimmerman was no longer a threat to anyone other possibly than himself, but the tragic case presented Florida and the nation with an opportunity to remove a mass killer from our midst. The public menace is comprised of recklessly permissive gun and “Stand Your Ground” laws that encourage people to pack, provoke, engage and shoot. That in truth is what Zimmerman did and was within his legal rights to do in the Dodge City theme park that Florida has become.
The legality of Zimmerman’s behavior was confirmed by a non-racist judge and jury bound to apply Florida’s laws. Despite claims that “Stand Your Ground” laws had no role in the trial, Judge Debra Nelson instructed the jury — and under Florida law properly so — that if Zimmerman wasn’t “engaged in any unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”
The “force” of these same laws will doom any effort by the federal authorities to succeed in a civil rights prosecution of Zimmerman or by Martin’s family to recover in a civil action for wrongful death. All the justified anger and despair and hot rhetoric aimed at mounting such futile legal efforts should instead be channeled toward a cause and campaign with some reasonable possibility of success and one that might save the life of some other kid resembling Trayvon — or your kid, or mine.
After years of taking it on the chin from the National Rifle Association, which of course had a hand in drafting such laws in Florida and other states, after a steady procession of mass and solitary funerals in places like Newtown, Conn., and Fort Edward, there are signs of change. There’s a broad movement to enact laws that meaningfully regulate gun ownership and use while preserving Americans’ ability to possess firearms for self-defense, sport and for service in a state militia — all that the Second Amendment was intended to protect.
On this issue, President Barack Obama has exhibited a refreshing degree of resolve. His assignment of the relentless Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder to bird dog the effort is smart.
Newtown is still fresh in our minds, notwithstanding the talking heads often repeated opinion that we already are forgetting if not laughing. The best strategy at the federal level is to push for universal background checks and a return to Brady Law-like limits on the possession of “assault weapons” properly defined. And with Trayvon Martin’s senseless and needless death back on front pages, state level efforts are best directed to the repeal of “Stand Your Ground” laws.
Although Holder has signaled support, those laws are a state issue and must be addressed at that level. Voters must demonstrate to legislators at both levels that they will be held accountable for their failure to act this time.
By ranking and scoring lawmakers on their pandering to gun-huggers’ paranoia, the NRA has rendered this nation a service. Concerned voters know exactly where the handmaidens of the gun lobby have stood and where citizens must aim and shoot with their wallets and ballots.