Where's the Trayvon Martin petition about gun control?
Protesters back a petition to prosecute George Zimmerman for fatally shooting unarmed Trayvon Martin. We need to ask whether 'Stand Your Ground' measures make people trigger-happy. And we need to think about the most common victims of lax gun laws: African Americans.
There’s a big cloud gathering, just beyond the horizon. It started a few weeks ago over Sanford, Fla. Now it’s everywhere, darkening with anger and outrage. You might even call it a storm cloud.Skip to next paragraph
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I’m referring to the burst of Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social networking to protest the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, captain of an informal neighborhood watch group, in Sanford on Feb. 26. Without the cloud, most of us wouldn’t know that Martin was African American, and Zimmerman isn’t. And far fewer people would be up in arms about it.
But I also fear that it might be clouding the real arms issue – that is, the problem of firearms. This tragedy is about race, of course, but it’s also about guns. And by focusing so heavily on the former, I fear, we’re blinding ourselves to the latter.
Yes, we’ve heard criticism of the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows citizens to use deadly force if they have reasonable fear of harm or death. And we’re sure to hear more debate over the next few weeks about whether Mr. Zimmerman, who says he acted in self defense, had any real reason to fear Trayvon Martin, who was carrying nothing more dangerous than iced tea and Skittles.
But if you look at the social-media protests about the event, almost none of them target Florida’s gun law itself. Signed by nearly 1.5 million people, the most popular online petition simply calls for charges to be filed against George Zimmerman.
Ditto for the loud public demonstrations unleashed by the furor on the Net. In New York, a “Million Hoodie March” echoed the petition’s demand for Zimmerman’s arrest. And in Florida, a protest urged state officials to withdraw his concealed weapons permit.
Got that? The problem isn’t that Florida lets people carry concealed weapons, or that it allows them to kill on questionable pretexts. Instead, it just let the wrong guy have a gun.
But we need to ask whether any private citizen should be carrying a concealed weapon, and whether “Stand Your Ground” measures make people trigger-happy. And most of all, we need to think about the most common victims of our lax gun laws: African Americans.
Nationwide, blacks are far more likely to die from firearms than are white people. Not surprisingly, then, African Americans also favor gun control more than whites do. In a 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center, asking people whether it was more important to “protect gun rights” or “control gun ownership,” 53 percent of whites chose gun rights and 39 percent selected gun control.
Among African Americans, by contrast, just 27 percent deemed gun ownership rights more important; meanwhile, a whopping 64 percent called gun control the more important goal.