Martin Killing Casts Shadow on All-Powerful NRA

The outrageous death of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin, allegedly at the hands of a deranged wannabe vigilante in Sanford, Florida, has been a miscarriage of justice in many ways.

Incompetent police and obtuse politicians have bungled the case. Nearly a month after the shooting, Martin’s alleged killer, George Zimmerman, has yet to be arrested, and the 9mm weapon he apparently used remains in his custody. The cops ignored 911 tapes that clearly showed Zimmerman’s intent to go after the teenager, and Zimmerman disobeyed their advice not to pursue the young man.

What’s stopping them from arresting Zimmerman, the police say, was a law signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005, called Stand Your Ground. It gives people “wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.” Police on the scene can judge whether a shooter’s self-defense claim is valid, which they apparently did here.

This has prevented them from making an arrest that would be standard operating procedure in any major city across this country. It may also be emboldening crackpots who have seen too many old Clint Eastwood movies to “stand their ground” when any sensible person would know it’s exactly the time to stand down.

The law “permits the use of deadly force only when a person ‘reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.’”  Its supporters, most prominently the National Rifle Association, cast is as a way for innocent people to better defend themselves.

But Stand Your Ground may have caused dozens of additional deaths. In 2010 The St. Petersburg Times reported that the rates of justifiable homicide tripled in the five years since the law passed and that 57 of the 93 cases in which the law could be invoked resulted in no criminal charges or trial. 65 Floridians lost their lives in those cases.

Is there any doubt this is tying police’s hands without increasing citizens’ safety and freedom?

Trayvon Martin's parents at a rally in New York this week protesting his killing. Photo: David Shankbone.

But that hasn’t stopped the NRA from helping spread this law to 23 other states. It also follows loosening of restrictions on assault weapons and semiautomatic weapons.  More and more states allow people to carry guns openly, including in bars (!), universities, and courthouses. Courthouses? Are airplanes next?

I believe in the Second Amendment, just as I do the whole Bill of Rights, although I have never owned a gun nor do I feel a need to. I’ve lived in big cities most of my life, not always in good neighborhoods. I think the police do a pretty good job of protecting me and my family and I think guns can be an invitation to violence, rather than a deterrent.

People have a right to hunt and own guns to defend their homes from intruders, but the NRA has taken this way too far. No one, Democrat or Republican, dare oppose them. I don’t think the organization was responsible for Martin’s death, but bad laws like this lead to unintended consequences the NRA refuses to acknowledge.

No right in the Constitution is unlimited. You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater, can’t assemble in ways that  represent a public danger, can’t publish false and malicious statements about people, and can’t impose your religious beliefs on others.

Why, then, can’t there be sensible limits on the one right—the right to bear arms—that can actually kill other people? I don’t think our founding fathers intended armed citizens to usurp the police and replace a Constitutionally grounded judicial system that presumes people innocent until proven guilty.

Trayvon Martin never got that presumption before his young life was tragically cut short—and Stand Your Ground is preventing his family from getting justice.

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