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The EditorsApril 16, 2012

In Sanford, Fla., an African-American teenager in a hoodie and a self-appointed neighborhood guardian with a gun clashed on a dark night in late February. Trayvon Martin, 17, lay dead. George Zimmerman, 28, a former altar boy of white and Hispanic origin and a criminal justice major at Seminole State College, had pulled the trigger. Mr. Zimmerman had followed Mr. Martin, against the advice of a 911 operator. Over the last 14 months he had called police 46 times to report problems and suspicions in his gated community. Mr. Zimmerman has twice been accused of violence or criminal misconduct; but he has a concealed weapons permit and remains at large because Florida, like 23 other states, maintains a “stand your ground” statute that allows individuals to use deadly force if they have a “reasonable fear” of harm.

Mr. Martin, 6 feet 4 inches tall but weighing only 140 pounds, earned extra money washing cars. He babysat for his younger cousins. His offense that night was to be a black youth delivering a bag of Skittles to his soon-to-be step-brother. The Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson described the tragedy best: Mr. Martin may have been killed because of “the bull’s eye that black men wear throughout their lives” and for failing to obey “the vital imperative to never, ever be caught on the wrong street at the wrong time.”

Mr. Martin’s death has sounded a national wake-up call regarding the still imperfect status of race relations in the United States, but it also calls for an examination of a decades-long retreat from rational gun control. A brief period of legislative progress for gun control in the 1980s following the shooting of President Ronald Reagan was met by a counteroffensive from U.S. gun lobbies, principally the National Rifle Association, that continues to this day. Legislators and citizens who should have known better wearied of the struggle to better regulate America’s “militias,” thinking perhaps that gun-rights advocates would eventually be satisfied with various incremental victories against gun controls. But instead, each extension of gun-use rights has only provoked hunger for more.

What has been the effect of this unilateral cease-fire? Pro-gun rationalizations that used to be dismissed as parody have moved into the mainstream. Events at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, the shootings in Tucson that left Gabrielle Gifford gravely wounded and other deadly incidents should have driven the nation toward more rational gun restrictions, but America has gone the other way and seems closer to a gun-happy dystopia than ever before.

Thirty-six states have relaxed restrictions for concealed weapons permits under so-called “shall issue” procedures. Four states require no registration of handguns at all. Other states have severely curtailed common sense restrictions on where handguns may be carried. Now Second Amendment enthusiasts carry guns into shopping malls, bars, college campuses, restaurants, even churches. On March 21 Indiana’s Governor Mitch Daniels signed legislation that allows citizens to use deadly force against the police if they perceive police actions to be unlawful. This has created an entirely new arena for unintended, mortal collisions between police and the public.

In 2005 Florida became the first state to expand broadly the right to use deadly force for self-defense, obliterating the “duty to retreat” from threats in public places. In this new situation, once self-defense has been invoked, the burden is on the prosecution to disprove the claim. “Stand” laws have led to the multiplication of cases in which gang leaders, drug dealers and bar-room pugilists have killed those who have provoked them and gone free. Justifiable- homicide claims in Florida have more than tripled since the law was passed.

The incident in Sanford raises questions about race, ethnicity, neighborhood tensions and violence in U.S. culture. A common factor in these issues is the failure of politicians to stand up to the N.R.A. and insist that the safety of the nation’s young people, for example, has a higher priority than a gun-toter’s absolutized version of Second Amendment freedom. Trayvon Martin paid the ultimate price for the public’s declining interest in responsible limitations on gun ownership.

Even if Mr. Zimmerman is prosecuted, gun worship will remain. The Martin tragedy has not discouraged the N.R.A.’s current press for a national right-to-carry reciprocity bill that would nationalize concealed-carry permits. Only a national law that restricts who can own a gun or carry a concealed weapon and limits where guns may be kept can confront this crisis. Rational gun control might save the lives of future Trayvon Martins of every race and age entitled to walk city streets; but it will require courageous civic leaders who really value human life and will stand their ground against the N.R.A.

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William Atkinson
12 years 2 months ago
Maybe what we need in America is a REVERSE Mentality since the almighty supreme court refuses to take up constitrutionaly right for arming individuals belonging to a well organised militia AND start arming everyone, all ages, all races, all sexes, all languages, all religions. If its a constitutional right then lets have gun stamps provided to everyone so no one will walk, ride, fly, hike, oan exist in America that isnt armed to the teeth. What we need is a million gun totin hockey moms, thousand of idiotic community protectors armed beyond even what soldiers need to fight a war. Results would be a national shootout unprecident in the world, and then who evers left on supreme court could strike down, or make a new law that interprets the constitution on arming individuals who are part of well organiused militia.
Mike Evans
12 years 2 months ago
How is it that we refuse to regulate super size weapons only made for close quarters combat, assault weapons designed only to produce a hail of fire, and heavy duty ammo designed to blow any target to bits? If the protaganist was only armed with a simple gun, it is likely the victim might have survived. How would you like to attend a political rally where everyone was armed and dangerous and firing all their guns in the air? It would be just like Afghanistan and you know how that is turning out. Next we should escalate to tanks, minefields, fortresses and aerial bombardment, perhaps a missile from a drone. The NRA is indeed an anachronism and should be voted off the island.
Jerome Riggs
12 years 2 months ago
This editorial is really slanted and misleading to infer that stricter gun laws would or could have prevented what happend to Trayvon Martin. Yet it is the common refrain of liberal journalists to pronounce that the taking of a life is best stopped by stricter controls on guns. The facts don't support this.

One would be hard pressed to find a country that has less crime of this type, or fewer killings by guns because of very strict gun control laws. Take for instance Mexico, a country I visit often. There is a sign at the border crossing that in huge letters warns "GUNS AND AMMO ARE ILLEGAL IN MEXICO".  My friends ask me why I am not afraid  to go Mexico when they read about all the drug war killings? I answer them by saying how could that be true, since guns and ammo are not allowed in Mexico. My friends are quick to realize the logic.
John Loeffler
12 years 2 months ago
Can't believe you trotted out this old, wearied lame argument.  There is no such thing as "rational gun control."  All one need do is witness states such as Oregon, Illinois, Wisconsin, and California, which have so-called "rational gun control."  The laws are so complex it's difficult to buy a weapon or even impossible to obtain a concealed carry permit.  The laws tangle law-abiding citizens in legal knots, while criminals don't care and operate with impunity.

Notice those states with "rational gun control" are the ones with some of the worst violence and crime. 

The rationale of "rational gun control" died a long time ago, due to an accute case of reality.  A few weeks before the T. Martin incident, two black kids set a white kid afire and  the media didn't seem interested.  Maybe we should have rational flammable fluid control too?   What part of "..shall not be infringed" in the Bill of Rights doesn't America Magazine understand or is it opposed to constitutional rights like freedom of speech as well?  Perhaps we could have rational speech control for irrational speech we don't like or editorials like this one.  Oh, I forgot, that's called "hate speech."  Keep writing.  We'll keep reading.

Joseph Bruns
12 years 2 months ago
The current Supreme Court has made clear that the Second Amendment does not speak to public safety or to 'rationality.'  They have concluded that it is a pure, individual right, and that the State cannot restrict gun ownership merely because the preponderance of statistical and empirical evidence indicates that the proliferation of guns, particularly handguns, increases violence in crime.  Compared to economically developed countries, Germany, Spain, Canada, UK and most others, the homicide rate and the homicide rate with guns is far higher in the United States.  But that really doesn't matter - the right, as interepreted by this SCOTUS is not subject to restriction merely because it makes sense to do so, or even because a democratically elected legislature finds it to be in the community interest.

Of course, to interpret the Second Amendment it that way is to say that the qualify phrase regarding a well-regulated militia have no meaning whatsoever.  It's as if the framers were being paid by the word.  It also raises the question on other regulations.  If hand guns cannot be restricted, why should full-automatic weapons be outlawed?  What about a nice rocket propelled grenade launcher?

LaRue Withers
12 years 2 months ago
It is fascinating to me that those who claim to be Evangelical Christians are some of the most adamant about having a gun. They claim that "faith" is the opposite of "fear," and yet they are afraid of something. Politicians and the media do not help because they sensationalize crime and crime rates are actually lower than they have been. You may say whatever you wish, but it all ends up in "greed." The gun lobby wants to sell guns and they are aided and abeted by the NRA. Only God knows how many children will be killed in this country before they awaken. I honestly believe that many who want "their" country back are seeing the fact that they will soon be outnumbered by what we now call minorities and the guilt from their treatment of them causes them to be afraid. Deep inside they understand what goes around comes around and yet they do not improve their behavior toward others. We are told by God to welcome strangers. We certainly have a strange way of doing so. (. . . and before you all go off, I am a WASP, not a minority). It's the same thing when people claim to want a "Christian" president. They don't. They need to do a study of James about having preferences and favoring the "rich" and having the "poor" stand in the back. Who is the person among those running who wants to help the poor, naked, hungry and has done so? Who is the person who wants to help the wealthy get even more on the backs of others?
Mike Van Cleve
12 years 2 months ago
Someone mentioned the case of the white child burnt to death by black youths. I guess two questions come up for me. Is this true. I have only heard of this in rumors. If it is true it is horrible. Which brings my second,what happened with the case? Has someone been tried with the crime is someone doing time? If the answer to those questions are yes it would seem that justice is being done so why put pressure on a criminal justice system that is working?
Virginia Edman
12 years 2 months ago

"The incident in Sanford raises questions about race, ethnicity, neighborhood tensions and violence in U.S. culture. A common factor in these issues is the failure of politicians to stand up to the N.R.A. and insist that the safety of the nation’s young people, for example, has a higher priority than a gun-toter’s absolutized version of Second Amendment freedom. Trayvon Martin paid the ultimate price for the public’s declining interest in responsible limitations on gun." "ownership.

This statement is so true.  If you are looking for a country with "less crime of this type" Jerome, you need only look north.  Canada is not perfect, but you know that most people are not carrying a gun.  And there are no gated communities.

Canadians are quick to mention the areas in the United States that are dangerous and run down.  Instead of dealing with poverty and race, the United States seems to be moving to a mentality of exclusion.  If medical care is not established for all, then the rich will be well and the poor can die.  If jobs are not there for all, then the rich will get richer and the poor will be even poorer than before.  It is a recipe for trouble. 

Thank you for your article.  It contains a lot of rational common sense.  

Carlos Orozco
12 years 2 months ago
For those who want to go beyond partisan politcs and open their mind, watch this video written and narrated by Sean Stone, son of the famous director.


In depth interview on the previous video:


Emily Taber
12 years 2 months ago
Both pro- and anti-gun control advocates list numerous examples to support their cases, with varying reliability; however, it causes me to believe that the debate over gun control misses the heart of the issue.  If both sides can cite examples of how arming and disarming citizens have led to safer, less violent societies, then perhaps we're examining the wrong issue here.  Perhaps the common factor that unites regions with lower violent crime rates is not gun control (or lack thereof).  Perhaps the issue we should be examining is the mentality that leads to these tragedies, a mentality connected with economics, race, and an altogether too American belief that the quickest solution is the best solution.  Both sides seem to be gulity of a similar error: they both think the answer to the problem of violent crimes lies in the question of what to do with the guns.  At best, their convictions are inadequate solutions to a much deeper question.

Beth Cioffoletti
12 years 2 months ago
I choose not to own a gun.  My world is vastly more dangerous with laws like Stand Your Ground. 
Ana Blasucci
12 years 2 months ago

Nobody really knows what happened that night in Sanford.  Yet, you assert that Mr. Martin's offense that night was "to be a black youth delivering a bag of skittles...."
We don't know what happened.  You don't concede that there is conflicting "testimony" floating around out there.  We don't know. 
Your journalistic transgression might not rise to the level of bearing false witness, but be careful.  Any time we think we know what took place, and haughtily hold to it, we are being at best short-sighted, and at worst actually sinful.  Usually, penance comes in the form of being proved wrong to one extent or another, and feeling properly foolish.  This case might be a rare exception, but let's see.  The morality still holds in any case.

Mike Evans
12 years 2 months ago
Does owning and fondling a Glock .40 caliber make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Do you fantasize about getting a chance to draw and shoot at some villanous thug who might confront you? Do you seek out dark alleyways and areas where you are not welcome hoping someone will call your bluff and give you an opportunity to sling lead? And when you go home and kiss your kids goodnight, do you caefully unload and disable and secure your weapon? I can't imagine Jesus wearing a sword. 
john ryan
12 years 1 month ago
2 Items,
Have anti-gun people,groups,legislators etc ever proposed to the U.S. public a cogent summary of points on restrictions on the 2d Amendment they believe would convince the Supreme Court to uphold? I would like to see one. 

Why were (some) state laws amended to include "stand your ground" provisions? What was the driver of these changes? What was the good intention?  Do they more or less have all the same provisions from state to state?  

How does that old saying go?  "dont expect functional results from dysfunctional input"

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