Monday, July 16, 2012

Trayvon, Zimmerman, guns, and safety

As time has passed since the Trayvon Martin tragedy, it has become only more apparent what a tragedy it truly was. Whatever else George Zimmerman may have been--a wannabe cop, a man willing to shave the truth in front of a judge, maybe even man who as a boy abused a female relative--he does not appear to have been motivated by a racist grudge against African-Americans.  Instead he appears to be a man who felt threatened in his role as protector.  First he was threatened by a serious of local burglaries. Then he was threatened by the presence of a black man in a hoodie. Then, if we believe him, he felt threatened and afraid of Trayvon Martin--enough so that he shot him.

But there's something strange about Zimmerman's fear of Trayvon.  Why did Zimmerman follow a man he feared, when the police dispatcher had specifically asked him not to do so?  The answer, I believe, is that he had a gun. The gun made him feel safe. I don't know if he had clearly thought out how he would use a gun during an encounter, but the gun gave him a sense of security.

Then, later, according to Zimmerman's own account, Trayvon attacked him. Zimmerman was larger, and he could probably have fended off the attack, if such it was, with his fists alone.  But then, says Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin reached for his (Zimmerman's) gun.  The gun that had made Zimmerman feel safe now all at once made him feel that his life was in danger; so he grabbed the gun first and shot.

Here's the irony:  Without the gun, Zimmerman would probably have stayed in his car. The police, responding to his call, would have confronted Trayvon Martin, questioned him, and found that he had a legitimate reason for being where he was and that he posed no threat.  The police would have allowed both young men to go on their way. Even if Zimmerman had followed Martin without a gun, without a gun for Martin to grab he would never have feared that he was about to be killed.  Without a gun in the picture, there would have been no "Stand Your Ground." Trayvon Martin would be alive, and George Zimmerman would be free.

I believe that the Second Amendment gives law-abiding Americans the right to own guns, but it certainly doesn't take away the risk guns pose to their owners or innocent bystanders. People talk about owning guns for safety. Usually, when this goes wrong it goes wrong at home, as in the case this week of a three-year-old accidentally shooting his father to death. But the Trayvon Martin case shows how even in the heroic narrative of men using guns to protect life and property from criminals, the gun can do its owner more harm than good.  If I lived in a neighborhood with a high crime rate, I would welcome a neighborhood watch group.  But I would feel much, much safer if I knew that members of that group were unarmed.

See my past post on this topic, Trayvon Martin and the Hoodie.

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