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March 21, 2012

Column #1,595

“Shoot First. Ask Questions Later”

by Mike McManus

            Florida was the first state to pass the law it calls “Stand Your Ground” pushed by the National Rifle Association.  Twenty other states have adopted it.

            On Feb. 26 Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed by George Zimmerman, who was not charged with murder, because he claims he was threatened by Martin, and was defending himself.

            A close reading of the circumstances, however, suggest that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is right in calling it the “Shoot First. Ask Questions Later” law. 

            Consider these undisputed facts:

1.      Martin was unarmed, and simply walking from a 7-11 where he bought Skittles and a can of iced tea. He was talking to his girl friend on the phone, and said a man was following him.  She told him, “Run.”  He replied he would “Walk Fast.”

2.      “Why are you following me?” Martin was heard to say.  Then the girlfriend heard a far away voice saying, “What are you doing around here?” Martin’s family lawyer says that exchange “completely blows Zimmerman’s self-defense claim out of the water.”

3.      Zimmerman, an Hispanic, aged 28, who placed 46 calls to 911 in 14 months, as a Neighborhood Watch captain, called 911 in this case to report a “suspicious” person, a young black male in a predominantly white gated community. Zimmerman muttered, “F…g coons always get away.”  The dispatcher told him not to get out of his car, and said the police were on the way.

4.      But Zimmerman was already outside.  There was a scuffle. Martin was heard yelling “Help” before his phone went dead as he was forced to the ground. A white female witness said Zimmerman was standing over the boy, whose face was on the ground, “straddling him, with feet on either side of the boy,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

5.       She called out, “What’s going on?  Is everything OK?” Zimmerman replied, “Call the police.”  There was no need to do so seconds later as the boy was shot and killed by Zimmerman, who would claim “self-defense” and be believed by the police.

6.      The boy’s mother told Anderson Cooper, “The boy yelling HELP was my baby’s voice.”  His father added, “He was afraid for his life. He saw death coming.  After the shot, the screams stopped.  He was pleading for his life.”

Jeff Toobin, a legal reporter with CNN, told Cooper, “The law is so protective of people who shoot people, I am not surprised that there have been no arrests.  The law is an invitation to use deadly force and use `self defense’ as an excuse.”

            Toobin and CNN reported another case in which David James was playing basketball with his 8-year-old daughter at an outdoor court in Valrico, Florida.  A boy was skateboarding on the court at the same time.  Trevor Dooley, a local resident, told the boy he shouldn’t be skateboarding there.  James stood up for the boy, and the two had a confrontation.

            However, Dooley was carrying a gun and killed James, asserting he felt threatened, and asked the case to be dismissed. Prosecutors have charged Dooley, but not Zimmerman.

            Cooper asked Rep. Dennis Baxley, the author of Stand Your Ground, if Zimmerman should be protected by his law.  To his credit, Baxley said “There is nothing in this statute to protect a person pursuing another person.  He is on thin ice.”

            The City Council of Sanford, Florida, where the incident occurred, apparently agree. On Wednesday they voted 3-2 to express “no confidence” in the local police chief.

            Toobin notes that since the shift of the law, “reports of justifiable homicides have tripled, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” who opposed the law.

            This is just one more example of bad gun laws in America.  How many people do you think have been killed since Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were shot in 1968? 

            100,000?  500,000?  No. More than one million Americans have been killed by guns. In one year, 31,593 people died in gun violence, 18,223 of whom killed themselves. U.S. homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than rates in 22 other populous high-income countries. 

            Did you know that every time a gun kills or injures in self defense, it is used 22 times for suicide and 7 times in criminal assaults and homicides?  America has 283 million guns in civilian hands, but they’re owned by only a quarter of Americans.

            The suicide rate of New Yorkers, where guns are hard to buy, is one-third that of Wyoming where 60% of homes have guns.

            Owners of guns are at high risk. They’re not in my house.

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