Michael Stafford, 7/15/2013 [Archive]

Guns Get Off Again

Guns Get Off Again

By Michael Stafford

Saturday's verdict in the George Zimmerman trial has sparked national outrage, and rightfully so.And yet, with much of the focus on race, there is an accomplice to Trayvon Martin's death that has, to a surprising degree, escaped scrutiny and a seat in the dock- guns, and our lenient, permissive approach to them. The fact that it's a repeat offender makes matters even worse.

Although it wasn't technically utilized by Zimmerman's defense at the trial- they never filed the appropriate motion- Florida's "stand your ground" law, which abrogates the traditional common-law rule that required individuals to attempt to retreat before using lethal force in self-defense, played a critical role in both the tragic events of February 26, 2012, and in the legal case that followed. The law is just one example of a successful national campaign to expand the rights of gun owners at the state level- an effort that has also involved statutes extending the range of locations where weapons can be permissibly carried, including schools, daycares, workplaces, bars, and athletic events. Indeed, several states, including Arkansas and South Carolina, now even permit gun owners to profane places of worship with their weapons.

Some would take matters even further. Last January, a lawmaker in Colorado introduced a bill that would have prohibited businesses open to the public from banning guns, unless they themselves provided armed security.Another measure, put forward in February in Missouri, tried to make it a felony for legislators there to introduce "a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States," presumably as interpreted by the National Rifle Association.

Supporters of legislation expanding gun rights typically deny that a link exists between our lax laws- the public policy choices we have made- and the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our nation. These arguments are made against a moral horizon that assumes widespread private gun ownership is a positive good for society.

Both are deadly wrong.

Gun violence reaps a harvest of more than 30,000 souls, on average, every year in the United States.To put this number in perspective, that's nearly equal to the total number of American combat fatalities in the entire Korean War.And there is a link between gun control and gun violence- as a recent study published online in JAMA Internal Medicine concluded, "[a] higher number of firearm laws in a state are associated with a lower rate of firearm fatalities in the state, overall and for suicides and homicides individually." It's a truth too many of our state legislators are either ignorant of, or simply choose to ignore.Regardless, this much is clear- lenient gun laws lead to more gun violence, and a higher body count.

Overall, "stand your ground" laws, in common with the range of other state measures seeking to expand gun rights, demonstrate contempt for human life and fetishize vigilantism and private violence.Vigilantism, in turn, actually makes society less secure. This point is amply demonstrated by the Zimmerman case- it's a veritable study in the benefits of leaving public safety to the professionals.

But the Zimmerman case isn't alone- Florida's experience with its "stand your ground" statute provides many other examples.As the Tampa Bay Times has reported, the law has been used successfully by defendants in a number of cases involving shocking circumstances:

"One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free."

More broadly, is there any doubt that Martin would still be alive if Zimmerman hadn't been armed on the night of the shooting? Or that the presence of a gun changed Zimmerman's approach to their entire encounter, and the trajectories of both their lives?

In the end, this case illustrates why more guns, carried by more people, in a wider range of places, that can be used under more circumstances, makes us all more insecure.

If we want to prevent more tragic deaths like Trayvon Martin's, then we need to turn some of our righteous anger against guns, and a system that places them all too easily into the hands of the George Zimmerman's of the world.Would that we'd convict them.

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©Copyright 2013 Michael Stafford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of "An Upward Calling." Michael can be reached at anupwardcalling@yahoo.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.



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