Trayvon Martin is now a household name or, at least, a 24-hour news-cycle and blogosphere fixture. Exactly why George Zimmerman shot and killed young Martin is in dispute, and the facts will be heard and judged by a jury of Zimmerman’s peers.
The Martin case has become cause célèbre for many issues. Perhaps the most dunderheaded is whether Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is allowing for vigilante justice, or, as Paul Krugman flatulently summarizes, “lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest.” It is highly unlikely that the specifics of standing one’s ground will get more than a cursory reference by Zimmerman’s defense team, if that: the fight between Zimmerman and Martin was, by all accounts so far, a nonstop engagement. Without a pause in the action it’s very hard to even raise the question of whether Zimmerman had a “duty to retreat,” which is what Stand Your Ground laws address. This case will likely come down to whether Zimmerman was the aggressor or acted in self-defense, and, if the latter, whether self-defense was reasonable. I don’t believe even the illustrious Krugman objects to common law self-defense, but perhaps he’s trying to add a Nobel Peace Prize to his Nobel collection.
While the Stand Your Ground arguments are falling by the wayside (the news cycle can only say it so many times), others are busy adding Trayvon Martin to the anti-gun cause.
Now that we’re over a decade past 9/11 (the day that I believe nearly shut down the anti-gun lobby and that continues to severely cripple it), the anti-gun lobby has started to voice itself again. In a recent New Yorker piece, Jill Lepore chronicles the shootings of Trayvon Martin as well as school shootings in Ohio and California. In cliché New Yorker fashion, she approaches lawful gun possession by viewing it as, at best, déclassé (something done by hicks who lack the advanced sensibilities of New Yorkers) or, at worst, fearful and ignorant (well, ditto). I give Lepore credit for actually visiting a shooting range and taking a shooting lesson, but even such open-mindedness does not dispel her holier-than-thou attitude: “It feels like a clubhouse, except, if you’ve never been to a gun shop before, that part feels not quite licit, like a porn shop.” A model of objectivity.
This article, and the entire idea of adding Trayvon Martin to the anti-gun cause, trips over itself. First, Lepore notes:
In size, speed, efficiency, capacity, and sleekness, the difference between an eighteenth-century musket and the gun that George Zimmerman was carrying is roughly the difference between the first laptop computer—which, not counting the external modem and the battery pack, weighed twenty-four pounds—and an iPhone.
Zimmerman’s pistol was certainly more reliable, more easily concealed and carried more rounds than eighteenth-century muskets. But Zimmerman fired one shot at Martin, the same number of rounds that pistols could fire well before Columbus sailed to the New World, and well before the Second Amendment was written. Although the massacre at Virginia Tech and the recent shootings Lepore discusses other than Trayvon Martin implicate the so-called “modernity argument,” such was not one of the aspects of Martin’s death.
But nitpicking aside, the bigger picture is far more disturbing. As I noted before, we do not know whether or not Trayvon Martin was murdered or killed in self-defense, but it is foolhardy to enlist Martin’s memory for the anti-gun cause when he may very well be another example of exactly why ordinary Americans should be able to own and carry firearms. If Martin did pin Zimmerman to the ground and repeatedly punched him in the face, Zimmerman was fully within his rights to shoot Martin in the chest.
If Zimmerman is acquitted or the charges against him are dismissed, gun control platitudes around Trayvon Martin will, to put it mildly, backfire. If anti-gun sensibilities stretch so far that ordinary Americans are meant to cower in fear and submit to those with more physical strength and the will to wield it, gladly taking a beating now and then for the lofty cause of what Lepore terms “civilian life,” I welcome the anti-gun lobby back into public discourse. There’s always room for another court jester.