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.
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These numbers don’t sit well with the gun lobby, which has often suggested that strict gun control actually discriminates against racial minorities. Its evidence? Some of our earliest restrictions on guns barred African Americans from owning them.Skip to next paragraph
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That’s true. And it’s also irrelevant. Especially in the years right after the Civil War, racist whites strove to keep guns out of black hands. But it hardly follows that today’s gun-control laws are racist, or that African Americans would be safer if they armed themselves.
Ditto the irrelevancy of the often-cited facts that the militant Black Panthers protested California’s gun-control laws, and that even the famed pacifist Martin Luther King, Jr. applied for a gun license in the late 1950s after his house was firebombed. Not surprisingly, the white-supremacist government in his native Alabama rejected the request.
But that same state racism was precisely the reason that King wanted a weapon. Today, 40 years after the civil rights revolution, it's hard to argue that our governmental institutions purposefully menace black Americans; indeed, we have a black American in the White House. The real danger to blacks lies in the private sphere – especially in gun-carrying citizens like George Zimmerman.
Because we share the same last name, I’ve received a barrage of emails asking if I’m related to Zimmerman. So far as I know, I’m not. But he and I live in the same nation, the United States of America, where it’s easier to get a gun than in almost any other developed country on earth. And racial minorities pay the highest price for that.
So I hope our Tweeters and Facebookers keep pressuring authorities in Florida and the US Department of Justice, which recently announced an investigation of the death of Trayvon Martin. We need to know what really happened in Sanford on Feb. 26, and nobody should rest until we do.
At the same time, though, I also hope social networkers will demand tighter controls on the purchase and use of firearms. As gun lobbyists like to say, guns don’t kill; people do. But people are more likely to kill if they have a gun, and black people are more likely to get killed as a result. We need a break in the cloud, to make room for that discussion.
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory."