Travyvon Martin, Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law, and Gun Laws


Mike Riggs notes below that the Department of Justice is investigating the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old kid, in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. Martin was shot by neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman, who was known for calling the cops frequently.

From USA Today:

George Zimmerman, 28, claims he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month in self-defense during a confrontation in a gated community. Police have described Zimmerman as white; his family says he is Hispanic and not racist.

Zimmerman spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood last month and called the police emergency dispatcher to report a suspicious person. Against the advice of the dispatcher, Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with a bag of candy in his pocket….

Authorities may be limited by a state law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force.

Under the old law, people could use deadly force in self-defense only if they had tried to run away or otherwise avoid the danger. Under the new law, there is no duty to retreat and it gives a Floridian the right "to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force," if he feels threatened….

Prosecutors can have a hard time making a case if there is no one else around to contradict a person who claims self-defense, said David Hill, a criminal defense attorney in Orlando. So far, Sanford police have said there is no evidence to contradict Zimmerman's claims.

More here.

The death has sparked calls for Zimmerman's arrest and both the racial dimension and attitudes toward gun laws have intensified reactions and calls for action.

Some things to think about as investigations by the state and the press get underway:

1. Gun murders are down despite a general relaxing of gun ownership laws over the past couple of decades.

Compared to the 1970s, violent crime of all sorts is down.

2. When Florida in particular relaxed its gun laws, it was widely feared that it would become "the Gunshine State" and would be plagued by gun-related deaths. That hasn't happened, and Florida's gun-death rate is average for American states.

In fact, increases in gun ownership correspond with reductions in crime rates, something that the "more guns, less crime" crowd will say is in fact more than just correlation.

3. Without further information, it remains to be seen what particular role race may have played in the confrontation that led to Martin's death; complicating things is Zimmerman's own ethnicity, which has been reported both as white and Hispanic (according to official government categories, a Hispanic can be white or black). What's not in question is that race will be one of the major frames through which the event is rightly discussed. That's what happens in a country with a legacy of institutionalized racism and persistent problems related to unequal treatment under the law.

We'll talk more about this as more information becomes available.

Reason on police brutality.