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Saturday
Jul032010

George Zimmerman vs Treyvon Martin: The tragedy of it all

When George Zimmerman fatally shot Treyvon Martin, whether in justifiable self-defense or not, he destroyed not one but two lives: his as well as Martin's.

No matter what the outcome of his impending trial, George Zimmerman will never again live a normal life - the life he led up to that defining moment.  Even if absolved by a jury, he will be hounded and ostracized and quite likely live in danger of retaliation for his remaining years.  And he is a young man, so we suspect that's a lot of years.  Whatever his career plans might have been, and apparently at one point they included law enforcement, he will have a hard time finding a job, and an almost impossible one in law enforcement even if acquited.

It is, in short, a stunning tragedy in all respects.  A young man killed for no reason other than a false suspicion on the part of another.  And two lives destoyed as a consequence.

It is, as well, an object lesson in the downside of unregulated gun ownership.  Without embarking on a fruitless effort to debate the meaning and intent of our Constitution's Second Amendment, there is a case to be made for why gun ownership and use can and should be regulated.  Treyvon Martin is its poster child.

Here is what is all but indisputable: Had George Zimmerman not been packing a weapon, Treyvon Martin would be alive today.  Here is what is highly probable: Had George Zimmerman not possessed a deadly weapon, it's much less likely he would have been so willing to disregard a police dispatcher's request to cease and desist and let the authorities do their job.  Had he not had the mindset of one possessing a firearm and now convinced that he was following a perp, he would have probably been much more circumspect about confronting the teenager.  Had he been unarmed, two lives that have been destroyed would have likely been saved.

The issue of gun ownership, to my mind, is not fundamentally about the meaning of the Second Amendment.  It is more basic than that.  It is this: Should someone be allowed to carry on their person in public a firearm capable of killing someone without any regard for that individual's capability to act responsibly?  Would you give a four-year old a gun based on Second Amendment rights?  No.  Why?  Because a four-year old lacks the maturity and the judgment to be allowed to potentially kill someone, Second Amendment rights or no.

But does an 18-year old possess the requisite maturity and judgment?  How about a 25-year old?  Or someone in their 80s? It's not about rights, it's about responsibilty and judgment. 

There is a reason why in our country - and in most countries - there exist professional police forces.  And that reason has everything to do with making sure that those who are given the right to use deadly force also possess the skills and knowledge and judgment to do so.  And even here, there are far too many instances in which rookie (and sometimes seasoned) law enforcement officers make the wrong decision resulting in someone's death.

How is it that a state - Florida - can pass a law that in effect deputizes the entire population to use deadly force when they deem it necessary, while still requiring rigorous examinations and training for anyone wanting to become a law enforcement officer.  This is beyond stupid.

Of course, we still have to deal with the leading lobbyist of this sad piece of legislation, Marion Hammer.  In her testimony to the Florida legislature she proclaimed: "You can't expect a victim to wait before taking action to protect herself, and say: 'Excuse me, Mr. Criminal, did you drag me into this alley to rape and kill me or do you just want to beat me up and steal my purse?'"

That's a nice anecdote, hypothetical as it may be.  But what of Trayvon Martin's case, in which an innocent teenager was stalked and ultimately killed by a gun-wielding vigilante?  Isn't that death more than a counterbalance to Ms. Hammer's hypothetical victim?

In the end, it really isn't about Second Amendment rights.  It's about legislating and controlling who is allowed to use deadly force in a public setting.  (Yes, what you do within your home is another matter).

We have police forces that are specifically designated to use deadly force - and for good reasons.  Because the average citizen is neither trained nor experienced to be entrusted with this responsibility.

Think not.  Ask George Zimmerman.  He'll regret his decision for the rest of his life.