A curious thing happened this weekend. A very obvious, concerted effort has been made to try to spin the death of Trayvon Martin not as a case of a man who considered himself glorified law enforcement acting as a vigilante and causing actions that resulted in a young man being shot to death into a story of a man who was protecting his neighborhood and was attacked and defended himself.
The people most intent on changing the story are the ones with the most invested in the so called “stand your ground” law, a jacked up version of “Castle Doctrine” that has been introduced in numerous state legislatures in the last two years. Castle Doctrine allows a person to be found justified if he or she shoots someone entering his or her house as a means of self-defense, regardless of if the shooter is in immediate danger. Just the potential for danger is enough, and rather that violence as the last resort if the victim cannot run away, it can be used even if an exit is an option.
With the expanded Castle Doctrine, this ability to fight first rather than use it as a last resort is extended not just to a person’s home, but in any situation where the shooter feels like he or she is in danger. It’s that law that allowed Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, to shoot Martin and not immediately be arrested for murder. And it’s that law that gun rights advocates are afraid could be overturned by public pressure.
But it doesn’t have to be, and if the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners of America and other gun rights advocates were smart, they would stop trying to make Martin into the aggressor and instead use his death as a reason to support the Castle Doctrine and its expansion.
Zimmerman, the self-proclaimed neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin, will never successfully be recreated sympathetic, much less as the victim. With a 911 tape on file that shows that Zimmerman pursued Martin, regardless of the reason, and especially as he was informed that he shouldn’t do so, and that the police were on the way, Zimmerman was clearly in the wrong. Even if the new allegations are true, and Martin really was beating Zimmerman at the point in which Zimmerman shot him, it was still murder rather than self-defense simply because Zimmerman, not Martin, escalated the situation into one that became deadly.
Zimmerman lost any right to a self-defense claim when he actively pursued Martin after calling the police. Castle Doctrine or no, shoot first or not, Zimmerman was not enacting the basis of either law at that point because he became the aggressor.
And this is where the pro-gun advocates are both missing the point and missing their opportunity. Rather than try to make Zimmerman into a victim, a man who was being beaten and shot Martin in self-defense, they too should be condemning Zimmerman. If they had made it clear that this was an exception to the rule, and that the great, vast majority of gun owners are responsible enough not to instigate a dangerous situation, they may have been able to convince lawmaker that a public outcry for repealing the law doesn’t need to be heeded. In fact, they could even have claimed that the incident proved the need for the Castle Doctrine in order to have the ability to fight off potentially unbalanced assailants like Zimmerman who believe that they are vigilante cops handing out justice in their own neighborhoods.
I’m not a gun advocate. In fact, I hate guns, I despise conceal carry laws, and I cringe when my daughter plays make believe that she’s shooting imaginary “bad guys.” But if even someone like me can see how the gun advocates are mishandling this tragedy, I find it hard to believe that they can’t see it, too.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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