Trayvon Martin case proves Florida needs to repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ law

I’m glad the Trayvon Martin case is finally getting the attention it deserves. After all, the unarmed, Skittles-loving, hoodie-wearing teenager was shot way back on Feb. 26 by what appears to be a possibly racist and certainly overzealous police-officer wannabe.


Jajuan Kelley of Atlanta wears a Skittles wrapper over his mouth during a rally in memory of Trayvon Martin. (David Goldman/AP)

But it also seems probable that the shooting is the inevitable, terrible result of Florida’s gun laws, which allow a questionably qualified self-appointed neighborhood watch fanatic to pack hidden heat — and then encourages him to shoot first and cry self-defense later.

According to media reports, Zimmerman, who had been accused twice of either criminal misconduct or violence, had a concealed-weapon permit. The night he encountered Martin, he was carrying a 9mm black Kel-Tec semiautomatic handgun. Reviews have touted the weapon as powerful and accurate — and exceptionally slim, light and easy to hide.

Zimmerman aspired to be a police officer, and he was overly eager to get started. He apparently had designated himself to patrol the streets in his gated community — but he hadn’t registered as a member of a neighborhood watch organization or joined one.

When he called in his concerns about Martin and said he was following the teen, the dispatcher told him, “Okay, we don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman apparently disregarded those instructions.

Why would Zimmerman even consider firing, even if he was involved in what he claims was a physical altercation with the teen? Apparently, in Florida, the “Stand Your Ground” law allows a resident to use “deadly force” if “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.” Previous laws had said that an armed resident had a duty to retreat.

So the state is almost arming and licensing loose cannons to prowl the streets in search of “suspicious” teens to shoot.

Zimmerman has not yet been arrested — perhaps because of “Stand Your Ground” (though there are Florida legislators who have said this is never what they intended when they passed the law), or perhaps because the police simply haven’t been investigating the shooting strenuously enough. Maybe he’ll yet be charged. Or, maybe, if the state can prove he did utter that racial epithet, he’ll be charged with a hate crime.

If he’s charged with anything, it will be due to the efforts of the folks who are forcefully taking a stand against racial profiling and the Sanford police department’s puzzlingly laid-back reaction to the shooting. But along with examining how race may have played a role in this case, it’s perhaps even more important that Floridians and others are starting to take a closer look at our nation’s gun laws. If he hadn’t had a gun he felt justified to use, it might not have mattered what twisted things George Zimmerman was thinking when he saw a young man strolling through his neighborhood, carrying some candy and iced tea.

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Elizabeth Chang is an articles editor for The Washington Post Magazine.

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