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Trayvon Martin shooting: a turning point in gun rights debate?

For years, gun laws had grown less restrictive. But some gun rights advocacy has been curtailed after the Trayvon Martin shooting, which has provided ammunition for gun control groups.

By Patrik JonssonStaff writer / April 19, 2012

Demonstrators march past alfresco diners as they take part in a rally in support of slain teenager Trayvon Martin in New York April 10.

Keith Bedford/Reuters/File

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Atlanta

Will Americans leery of a decade of gun rights expansions stand their ground over the Trayvon Martin case?

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The Feb. 26 shooting of the unarmed teenager in Sanford, Fla., by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, and the initial police decision not to charge Mr. Zimmerman, sparked a national debate about race and violence in American society.

But so far, Trayvon’s death is having the biggest impact on the national gun policy debate.

The shooting, some say, may have set a potential high-water mark for gun rights after a decade of legislative expansion, which included measures like concealed carry and no-duty-to-retreat in public laws, and the landmark Florida “Stand Your Ground” law that’s been cited in the Trayvon Martin case.

A national conservative group that helped author the Florida law has even curtailed its gun rights advocacy, citing pressure from corporations.

“At some point, the progressives have got to stand their ground against the NRA,” says Philip Cook, a sociologist who studies gun policy and crime at Duke University, in Durham, N.C. “I think otherwise the NRA will continue to push for a broader interpretation of their understanding of what the Second Amendment right is, to the point where everybody pretty much can carry a gun, concealed or openly, all the time in any circumstance, and do with it what they want.”

Evidence suggests that this could be such a moment.

More so than the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords last year in Tucson by a mentally disturbed man, the Martin case has provided ammunition for gun control groups largely because it so starkly touches on two of the major gun rights pillars: the expansion of self-defense doctrine into public spaces, and the growth of concealed weapons laws, especially so-called “shall issue” laws that require states to give concealed weapons permits to applicants who meet standard requirements.

On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California put a hold on two separate Senate bills that would add so-called state-to-state “reciprocity” to allow concealed weapons owners to cross any state line, which would test the ability of cities like New York to control who’s allowed to carry a gun in a specific jurisdiction.

Gun owner groups have pushed the bills, saying they have the super-majority in the Senate to override Feinstein’s hold. The Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence applauded Feinstein’s move, calling the proposed laws the “George Zimmerman Armed Vigilante Acts.”

On Wednesday, Rick Scott, Florida’s Republican governor, began appointing a key Stand Your Ground review panel in the wake of Trayvon’s death, assigning his lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, to lead the panel. Ms. Carroll is black and a member of both the NAACP and the NRA.

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