When I took my concealed carry license course here in Dallas, my class was made up of 30–40 mostly well intentioned, attentive folks. Demographically, it ran the gamut from young adult males to elderly women, white, black, hispanic, you name it. Most of the class was interested in what the instructor had to say and seemed to grasp the fact that owning and carrying a gun is a right, not a privilege. Based on the questions they asked, they understood the ramifications of a private citizen carrying a gun and all the assorted baggage that entails.
However, there were two young men who were clearly ignorant of those ramifications. One of them I’ll never forget. He wasted more of the class’ time asking inane questions revolving around when he could shoot someone than I’d like to admit. How the instructor didn’t kick him out of class I’ll never know. I’ve hoped ever since that day that he either failed his shooting test or the instructor refused to grant him a license. One egregious example was in reference to being cut off on the highway while he was riding his motorcycle. He asked if that gave him the right to shoot at the driver of the car. The rest of the class looked around in shock at this idiot who clearly thought getting a CHL meant becoming James Bond on a crotch rocket.
In all populations, the great majority of the citizens will be law-abiding, conscientious human beings with an understanding of right and wrong. But in all populations, there will always be a vocal minority for whom an understanding of anything beyond the realm of their limited mental capacities will be impossible. This kid was one of those. He was a malcontent, hopped up on testosterone, who was looking for a reason to show how tough he was and hoping to do it legally based on a law that dictates what citizens CAN do instead of what they CANNOT do.
In many ways, that’s the crux of the problem. Laws should be restrictive in nature, created to limit the freedoms of people based on the effects contrary actions would have on other people. Laws shouldn’t define freedoms, only remove them. It should not be up to a jury of our peers to specifically say whether we can do something or not, only whether we have done something that violated the rights of another. Passing laws like this is a slippery slope because it creates a question of what is protected under the law.
Which brings us to the case of Trayvon Martin, a unarmed Miami, FL teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Under normal circumstances, one would assume a crime has been committed. Unfortunately, these are not normal circumstances. At question is the Florida law that says citizens of the state may use deadly force to protect themselves or their property when they believe they are in grave danger. The law is called Stand Your Ground and says that even if it is prudent for you to escape, you still have the right to defend yourself.
The slippery slope is of course how much territory is covered by the umbrella of a self defense law. This law, surely written by lawmakers who assumed it would only be used in situations involving physical violence, is being used to shield Zimmerman even though it is becoming rapidly apparently that he chased the unarmed teen down and shot him.
The details can be read here but the short version is that Zimmerman was a volunteer community watch patrolman with a record of calling in almost everything. He saw Martin in the neighborhood and called in a suspicious person. Then, instead of letting police do the work, he followed Martin with a licensed 9MM handgun even though the police dispatcher said not to. We can take a little side trip here and note that Zimmerman was an aspiring police officer who once attended a citizen police academy. At the risk of doing some couch psychoanalysis, he seems like the kind of person much like the kid I encountered in my CHL class.
What happened next is up for debate but the evidence seems to point out that Zimmerman followed and/or chased Martin and shot him. Zimmerman claims self-defense. That claim sounds patently false. Given the fact that he had no police authority and was never in danger if he hadn’t gotten out of his car, his claim to self defense resides on the unsubstantiated fact that Martin attacked him. However, if I’m walking along at night and someone is following me, I’m going to protect myself. If anything, Martin was the one who should be protected by the law in Florida. Zimmerman’s self defense claim stands in direct opposition to the fact that had Zimmerman, the aspiring but not yet ordained police officer, stayed in his car until police arrived-the only sane thing a normal person would have done-Martin would still be alive today and none of this would have happened.
The fact that Florida has a law that tells citizens specifically what they can do has opened up a can of worms surely never intended by lawmakers. There is no reason to have a law on the books that says you don’t have to run even if it’s prudent to do so. Without this law, it’s clear that Zimmerman has committed some crime because it’s not prudent to chase down an unarmed black teenager just because you think he looks suspicious in the gated community you are patrolling. Only this law is preventing Zimmerman from being indicted and it seems like a travesty to any casual perusal of the known facts.
In our CHL course, we were taught that once a bullet leaves the gun, we are completely responsible for its path and results. Unfortunately, lawmakers in Florida have passed a law that may transfer the responsibility from the shooter to the victim in a case that it was clearly never intended to cover. Passing a law that says you may stand your ground and shoot someone even if escape is a viable alternative is an example of a law designed to dictate your freedoms instead of limiting them based on the effect they have on others. When the law is used to shield someone who went out of his way to put himself into a situation fraught with danger, we’ve gone too far. George Zimmerman should be arrested and prosecuted for murder. There is no other rational outcome. And yet, he may not be because of this law.
Trayvon Martin would not be dead if George Zimmerman had acted in a rational manner. Zimmerman, clearly an individual with will to power desires, went out of his way to inject himself into a situation where he could play policeman. Without the authority to do so, nothing should stand in the way of a criminal trial. It will be a travesty of the highest order if he is allowed to go free because Florida lawmakers passed a law that shields him contrary to untenable circumstances.