George Zimmerman and his gun are free to go home. It's hard to understand the Florida jury's decision given what we know about the night Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, shot and killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Martin, 17 at the time, was minding his own business and walking back from the store with snacks when Zimmerman, terrified at the sight of Martin's hooded sweatshirt, followed the boy, challenging him to a fight. When he started to lose, he drew his gun and fired.
It's equally hard to stomach that the judge's instructions made it difficult for the six-member all-female jury to find Zimmerman guilty of the crime with which he was charged, second-degree murder, beyond a reasonable doubt. (Jurors could have considered finding Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter).
Most difficult to stomach is the legal mechanism used to justify the actions of vigilantes like Zimmerman. Florida has what is known as a Stand Your Ground law, meaning that individuals are permitted to use deadly force if they fear their lives are in imminent danger. Mississippi has a similar law called the Castle Doctrine, passed in 2006.
Certainly, the right to self-defense is a cornerstone of our legal system, but the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws are not about preserving peoples' rights to defend themselves and their property against harm. They're about money and politics.
The involvement of organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council—which crafts generic laws that they hawk to state lawmakers—the National Rifle Association and Walmart in spreading stand-your-ground laws is
These gun laws serve no function other than to give conservative lawmakers reasons to vote yes on "gun-friendly," "tough-on-criminals" legislation that look good on their annual NRA Report Cards, helping them in their re-election campaigns and, thus, in maintaining power.
In return, the gun lobby cashes in on the inevitable maelstrom that always results from the introduction of gun-related legislation and always touches off a buying frenzy of guns and ammunition.
Ensuring that the laws are concise and narrow in scope usually is of secondary importance to ramming them through the legislative process. We saw this with the passage of an open-carry law that has become the subject of a tug-of-war. The law purports to clarify existing laws, but raises just as many questions as it provides answers.
In the rush to approve whatever new gun law the NRA happens to be pushing at the time, legislators forget that the laws they create will lead to real-world confrontations, leaving teenaged boys and grown men with guns to figure out the limits of the law among themselves under the darkness of night skies.
We hope state officials bear this in mind as they aggressively pursue new gun laws.