Why was George Zimmerman carrying a gun?

Two sentences of background, just in case:

George Zimmerman is a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida. Three weeks ago, he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black boy, as Martin was walking home from the convenience store.

If you’re familiar with the Contributors section of DUFL Press, you’ll know that it says I work in law enforcement. I do.

I don’t carry a gun for my job, though I am statutorily entitled to. Many of my colleagues do. To do so, they had to attend a multiple-week-long police academy, and pass physical and psychological examinations. They are tested for firearm accuracy at a gun range every six months. And they spend most of their time at a desk.

If you want to go out on patrol, like Zimmerman wished he could, the training is much more rigorous. The NYPD academy, for example, is six months long, with accuracy re-certifications at least every six months after that.

Zimmerman did no such thing. He didn’t attend a police academy. He didn’t pass a psychological exam. In fact, his tendency to follow people when instructed not to may have made it difficult for him to pass any gun exam. [i]

In Florida, to obtain a concealed carry permit, which Zimmerman had, one must:

  • Be at least 21 years old.
  • Live in the United States.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, or misdemeanor domestic violence.
    (If you have been convicted of a disqualifying crime, it is possible to have your firearms rights restored)
  • Demonstrate firearms proficiency.

To demonstrate firearms proficiency, one must submit a firearms training document. Any training document. This can include “any hunter education or hunter safety course approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or a similar agency in another state.” [ii]

The thing about hunting is that it’s a lot different from carrying a concealed firearm. It’s really difficult to conceal a rifle or shotgun, and a Glock isn’t of much use against a deer.  But hey, it’s firearms training, so why not.

Florida also accepts “any National Rifle Association firearms safety or training course.” NRA courses include such concealed-carry-relevant topics such as “Basic Muzzleloading Rifle Shooting” and “Basic Shotgun Shell Reloading.” It also has one called “Refuse to Be A Victim” which just sounds aggressive. [iii]

(Want to see if you qualify for a concealed carry permit in Florida? Take the quiz!)

Florida is what’s known as a “shall-issue”  state, which means that it defaults to issuing gun permits until you prove you don’t qualify. Even if you’re a neighborhood watch clown, you can get a concealed carry permit.

There has been a lot of discussion of the role of Florida’s self-defense laws, known colloquially as the “stand your ground” law or “castle doctrine”. (I will chose to ignore the fact that most people in Florida do not live in castles).

Despite Sanford police statements saying otherwise, Zimmerman’s actions are not protected by such laws. This is according to Florida state Rep. Dennis Baxley, the prime sponsor of the “stand your ground” law.

Baxley writes (for Fox News, no less) that “Mr. Zimmerman’s unnecessary pursuit and confrontation of Trayvon Martin elevated the prospect of a violent episode and does not seem to be an act of self-defense as defined by the castle doctrine. There is no protection in the “Stand Your Ground” law for anyone who pursues and confronts people.”

This is common sense. You don’t get to chase someone, kill them, and then claim that they posed an immediate danger to your life. If you are chasing someone, they are not an immediate danger to you. They are the opposite, in fact.

Our problem, however, is more fundamental than Florida’s broad self-defense laws. There was simply no reason for Zimmerman to have a gun while he was on his neighborhood watch. To the extent that “stand your ground” laws legitimize gun possession outside the home or place of business, they are problematic, but the generational issue is that Florida is a “shall-issue” state. The idea that everyone is entitled to hide a means of deadly force on his or her person is not compatible with a peaceful or functional society.

These are the sorts of things that should be issued on a “shall-issue” basis:

  • Fishing licenses.
  • Parade permits.
  • Blue ribbons.

Notice that the above do not involve deadly force. That is because deadly force is not something that should be issued all willy-nilly.

I won’t accept a Second Amendment argument here. Zimmerman’s concealed possession while on his neighborhood watch is not “necessary to the security of a free state.” I am aware that many people and a majority of the Supreme Court disagree with me. I think that they are ideologues with a weak grasp of the realities of widespread gun possession.

The realities of widespread gun posession are that someone like Zimmerman can carry a weapon without demonstrating a need or an ability, and someone like Trayvon Martin can get killed without demonstrating a threat.


[i] For example, the night of Martin’s death, after Zimmerman describes Martin as a black male with “his hand in his waistband”, a 911 dispatcher asks “Are you following him?”

“Yep.”

“We don’t need you to do that”

Zimmerman of course, continued his pursuit.

[ii] http://licgweb.doacs.state.fl.us/firearms/acceptable_training_documentation.html
[iii] http://www.nrainstructors.org/searchcourse.aspx
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17 Comments on “Why was George Zimmerman carrying a gun?”

  1. Anthony K says:

    I agree, too little media attention has been given to Florida’s gun laws.

    Given that the Supreme Court recently incorporated the 2nd Amendment to apply not just to the federal government but also to the states, there’s been some speculation that NY would have to honor a secret carry permit granted in a dangerously permissive state like FL. The FL standard would be legally recognized nationwide. That possibility is utterly terrifying and would leave states unable to legislate for the health and welfare of their citizens. You’re right, the reality is that the Court’s ideological refusal to consider the realities of gun possession means a lot more people will die.

    On a slightly different note, you might want to read Adam Winkler’s book on a liberal case for a robust 2nd Amendment. I’ll see if I can find a good summary.

    • Mike says:

      Luckily, there have been no direct challeneges to NY’s gun laws yet. The SUpreme Court case that incorporated the Second Amendment to all the states was based in Chicago, which has a blanket handgun ban at the time. Perhaps NYC’s occasionall allowances of handguns are enough for it to withstand a court challenge.

      On a related note, the genius who tried to bring a loaded gun into the Empire State Building took a plea yesterday that allowed for him to serve no jail time. This is despite the fact that weapons possession charges in NYC carry a “mandatory” minimum 3 1/2 year prison sentence.

      The guy, Ryan Jerome, said “I definitely did not know it was illegal to bring a gun into New York City.”

      Too bad. The onus really should be on gun owners to know where they are allowed to bring their weapons. This guy should not have gotten off so easily.

    • Matt M says:

      “…there’s been some speculation that NY would have to honor a secret carry permit granted in a dangerously permissive state like FL. The FL standard would be legally recognized nationwide.”

      This can’t be right. How? Full Faith and Credit?

  2. Jonathan H. says:

    I posted my take on the Trayvon Martin shooting. Your post highlights a terrifying point: between Florida’s lax gun control laws and the terribly shortsighted “Stand Your Ground” law, there will only be more uncharged murders.

  3. Diana says:

    Excellent point, Mike. Chris Hayes just tweeted this same thought too.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks. If only Chris Hayes knew how to give credit where it was due…

      [If I were the sort of person to use emoticons, I would have ended that sentence with a sad face and a winking face]

  4. Shall issue…goodness that sounds rare.

    “The following are undisputed Shall-Issue states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina,[11] North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee,[12] Texas, Utah,[13] Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming .[7]”

    Oh, a majority of states are shall issue.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concealed_carry_in_the_United_States#Shall-Issue

    • Mike says:

      Hello Mr. or Ms. Pop. Thanks for joining the discussion.

      You are certainly correct that a majority of US states are shall-issue states. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

      There are also 22 states with “stand your ground” laws: AK, AZ, FL, GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MI, MT, NC, NH, OK, SC,SD, TN, TX, UT, WI, WV, and WY. Not a majority, but certainly a significant number of states.

      My concern is that by combining “shall-issue” laws with “stand your ground” laws, (you’ll notice that every “stand your ground” state is also a “shall-issue” state) states have created conditions whereby people with little training or experience using handguns can be allowed to shoot each other in public and claim self defense afterwards.

      In Florida, for example, someone with training using rifles and shotguns SHALL be issued a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public. That such a person is then given the power to discharge that handgun in public whenever they feel threated is a recipe for disater.

      If you happen to live in one of the “shall-issue”/”stand your ground” states, do you feel safer in public knowing that any one could be carrying a handgun and could use it without any affirmitive responsiblity to first try to retreat and not shoot?

  5. Norman says:

    Another gun shy liberal. go to fucking canada

    • J Love says:

      Way to show your intelligence Norman…name calling…really? That’s the best you can do? Why don’t you open a dialog, sorry…c o n v e r s a t i o n, and present your point of view with facts and evidence to support it? Too scary or do you just not have the skills to do so?

  6. GMG says:

    If you give a idiot a gun and power of over people they will take advantage of people.

    • MG says:

      That is correct, and all the idiots in govt positions have a LOT of them to take advantage of the people! That is why the 2nd amendment was 2nd on the Bill of Rights!

  7. Jason says:

    I hope you never find yourself in a situation where lives could have been saved, possibly your own, if only you were carrying a gun. I guarantee the first time you have the feeling of your life being threatened you will suddenly wake up to the importance of being able to protect yourself and your family with a gun. You’re scared of guns so you think it’s ok to try and tell others they can’t have one?? You think banning guns will stop violence? Europe did it yet their violent crimes rate is far higher than that of the US.

    Also it’s horrible the way you refer to members of any neighborhood watch as “clowns.” What’s your basis for such name calling? They care about the safety of their neighborhood enough to organize a group of volunteers and educate them, together with law enforcement, about reporting suspicious activity etc and to you they are clowns? You criticized a previous commenter for “name calling” yet you did the same thing, at least he had a point lol.

  8. 12gauge Johnie says:

    I’ve had my life threatened several times, Once at knife point, and a second at gun point, many years ago, when I lived in manhattan. Both times, I did what the criminal wanted, which was to hand over my wallet. Both times Law enforcement officials were contacted fairly quickly and the criminal was apprehended.

    I do not own any guns, nor do I feel a need to.

    However, If somebody else feels the need to have a fire arm, be it a pistol, semi-automatic weapon, rifle or a shotgun. I say LET them have one.

    But I would like that the person(s) have to go through a strict and comprehensive gun safety training course, and also some sort of back ground check, and I believe BOTH of these need to be a FEDERAL standard that ALL states are subject to..

  9. Alex says:

    This is probably the most disgusting, ignorant piece I’ve read to date about this incident. The fact that you penned this dribble three weeks after the shooting, had little to NO facts tells me exactly why you sit behind a desk in your “law enforcment role”.

    Your BS arguments are not supported by evidence but I don’t suspect you let facts get in the way of your opinions. Given the FACTS that are now out due to the trial I certainly hope you realize what a POS you were far slandering a man’s name and contributing to a culture of ignorance about firearms and the United States Constitution.

    Nothing funnier than your insinuation that your opinion holds more weight than the opinions of “the majority of the Supreme Court”…comedy gold.

    Here’s some facts for you about the competency of those who train “every six months” with their firearms

    https://www.usconcealedcarry.com/article-of-the-week/who-are-the-greater-threats-to-public-safety-police-or-carry-permit-holders/

    Feel free to track down the studies cited as they are fair and based upon N-U-M-B-E-R-S (aka ‘facts’)

    • Ed says:

      Nice shot Alex……but I suspect it fell on blind eyes and deaf ears.

      “Why was George Zimmerman carrying a gun?

      If he hadn’t been, it’s quite possible HE would be the dead one. The media coverage would have been merely a tiny paragraph buried on page 5 of the local paper. And those currently expressing so much “concern” and “outrage” for Trayvon……..couldn’t care less.
      Welcome to Liberal Utopia.


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