George Zimmerman's attorney, Don West, said it was “despicable” that the state attempted to prosecute his client given the preponderance of the evidence.
My partner in crime J.R. Gamble wrote about how black males are perceived in the judicial system, so I won't delve into the insensitivity and predictability of those remarks.
But out of all the things to be outraged about in this case – and there's a long list – prosecuting a man for killing an unarmed teen is not one of them. With that said, given Florida's Stand Your Ground laws, West is correct.
Though SYG law was not used in the defense of Zimmerman, its presence in the legal system creates an overly permissive acceptance of gun culture in the US. It made the law extremely subjective and allows men who take the law into their own hands, like Zimmerman, to walk free.
The origin of SYG came about because a Florida man, James Workman, awoken by his wife at 2 am, shot an intruder who walked into his trailer shortly after Hurricane Ivan. As is turned out, the man was Rodney Cox, a drunk FEMA employee who was working in the area during the cleanup. Workman, 77, was let off because it's somewhat reasonable to think, under those circumstances, that someone was coming for his life.
Workman was in trouble with the law enforcement for three months before he was cleared of any crime. But those three months were too much for Congressman Dennis Baxley, an NRA member, and he set into motion what would evolve into SYG. Politicians exaggerated the story, created a campaign around it and changed the law.
Billy Autry, Cox's uncle, summed it up best . "The people who used this incident to pass that law, they're not even on course,” said Autry. “They're not even close."
Think about that: SYG is based upon an old man killing an innocent government employee. The law has now evolved into legislation that allows for anyone fearing for their life anywhere to kill someone. And now another innocent person is dead.
Zimmerman's defense team argued that the crime happened in a two minute window when Zimmerman feared for his life. Those standards completely ignore the fact that nothing would have happened if Zimmerman hadn't blatantly disregarded police who told him not to purse Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman put himself in a position to become fearful, killed someone, and Florida's laws allowed him to get away with it because, by his standards, he was shook.
The NRA's argument is that citizens need the ability to defend themselves, ironically using fear of criminals and fear of government (comparing laws that would have kept guns away from ex-convicts and the mentally ill to the Gestapo) to get bills passed or blocked.
The NRA doesn't offer statistics to support their positions, at least none that have been confirmed by research (and you can thank Marco Rubio and $39 million from gun makers for helping to make them laws). However, studies conducted byTexas A&M and the National Bureau of Economic Research found that crime hasn't dropped in states that passed similar legislation to SYG, and that “justifiable homicides” have increased by 500-700 deaths per year. Just take a wild guess at the racial makeup of most of those homicides.
SYG isn't the only problem. Here are other measures taken in the state of Florida to keep their people “safe.”
-Requiring employers to let employees keep guns in their cars while at work Requiring city and county governments to allow guns in public buildings and parks
- Lifting a long-standing ban on guns in national forests and state parks Allowing military personnel as young as 17 to get concealed-weapons licenses. (Age limit remains 21 for everyone else.)
- Withholding the names of concealed-carry licensees in public records Permitting concealed-carry licensees "to briefly and openly display the firearm to the ordinary sight of another person." (The original bill would have allowed guns on college campuses, but it was amended after a GOP lawmaker's friend's daughter was accidentally killed with an AK-47 at a frat party.)
- Prohibiting doctors from asking patients if they keep guns or ammo in the house unless it's "relevant" to their care or safety. (Overturned by a federal judge.)
- Allowing legislators, school board members, and county commissioners to carry concealed weapons at official meetings. (Didn't pass; another bill to let judges pack heat "at any time and in any place" died in 2009.)
- Designating a day for tax-free gun purchases. (Didn't pass.)
- Exempting guns manufactured in Florida from any federal regulations. (Didn't pass.)
Supporting gun legislation is one thing; supporting justifiable homicide in any situation is an entirely new proposition. The fact of the matter is that the more guns are allowed in public spaces, the more guns will be used in public spaces. Standing your ground or defending yourself with a gun should be a last resort, not a first. These laws make it ok for George Zimmerman to ignore police and his better judgment, so long as he has a gun. Something like liquid courage has nothing on a tooly.
That's a much scarier thought considering police officers don't require such protection. "Society hesitates to grant blanket immunity to police officers, who are well-trained in the use of deadly force and require yearly testing of their qualifications to carry a firearm," said Steven Jansen, VP and CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, who began studying SYG in 2006. "Yet the expansion of the Castle Doctrine [ Ed Note: This doctrine is what makes it OK to defend yourself from a home invader] has given such immunity to citizens."
He adds: "To presume from the outset, as Florida's law arguably does, that a deadly response in these situations is justified would be at best irresponsible; at worst, that assumption could create a new protected set of behaviors that might otherwise be considered hate crimes or vigilantism."
That's exactly what it has done, and it's far worse than despicable.