Why was George Zimmerman carrying a gun?Posted: March 21, 2012
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?”
“We don’t need you to do that”
Zimmerman of course, continued his pursuit.