There are more than 10,000 gun-related homicides in the United States each year. This year, one of those was a seventeen year old boy in Florida, shot by a grown man who followed him around the neighborhood despite a police dispatcher’s specific instructions.
Just because George Zimmerman has been charged with second degree murder for the killing of Trayvon Martin does not mean that he’ll be convicted. Normally, the case would be pretty straightforward: no one disputes that Zimmerman pulled the trigger on the pistol that he proudly carried like an over-imaginative twelve year old might carry a cap gun. No one disputes that the bullet he fired took the life of a teenage boy. In almost every other Western country in the entire world, he would be convicted of the murder that he clearly committed. In Florida, the outcome is less clear.
The state of Florida—like the state of Vermont and any state where the NRA successfully promotes lawlessness and vigilante justice—has incredibly lax gun laws. The only reason that they didn’t pass a bill allowing guns on school property is that a frat boy waving an AK-47 at an FSU party accidentally killed the daughter of one of the bill’s supporter’s closest friends. While a frat party may be off limits, any of the state’s more than 800,000 permit holders can proudly carry their gun into a bar.Another law, known as “Stand Your Ground,” allows people to shoot anyone who they think poses a reasonable threat to them. Under this law three gang members who killed an innocent bystander when they were attacked by a rival gang were all acquitted.
I can’t make these stories up.
If Zimmerman goes to trial, all he will have to say is that he acted in self-defense, despite the call that clearly shows him chasing after an unarmed teenager who—surprise—may have felt threatened. If he can claim self-defense, the prosecution will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not defending himself. With no real witnesses, that’s incredibly difficult to prove. Under this law any person can murder another person, and if the prosecution fails to prove that they weren’t a threat, they walk free. Little separates this standard from lynching, mob justice, or honor killing.
There is only one real purpose of guns: the taking of life. Yes, you can use them for shooting targets. But the logic that a pistol or assault rifle is necessary for target practice is like arguing that a tank is necessary to drive to work, or that I need a supercomputer for my regression homework. Just because it does the job does not make it necessary.
The second amendment says that “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” George Zimmerman was not in a well-regulated militia, or any militia; he was a grown man playing soldier. Instead of indulging his violent imagination in a game of Call of Duty, he took it out into the night, onto the streets. For men like him, and for anyone not serving in this “well-regulated militia,” gun ownership should be restricted to hunting weapons or, at the most, to a safely-stored weapon in the home, not hanging from his belt as he roams the streets. America will forever be plagued by the horrible types of violence that almost led to the death of Representative Gabrielle Giffords last year, and the hasty justice that caused the death of a Florida teenager the other week until we abandon our self-destructive fetish for firearms.
On September 11th, 2001, terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans, and we swore to pursue them to the ends of the earth. We spared no measure or expense. We surrendered rights to the FBI, the NSA, and the TSA. We spent countless billions in order to ensure that in the years following, such a tragedy would never happen again.
That same year, guns killed four times as many Americans, and in the decade since we’ve expanded access to these guns while many long-standing bans fell to the pressure of NRA lobbying. These policies allowed the death of Trayvon Martin, and they contribute to the deaths of more than 30 Americans every day. If we truly value life then surely surrendering our Glock 19s, our AK-47s, and our AR-15s is a fair price to pay to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.