A year after Trayvon Martin shooting, is America much changed?
The trend in the states toward liberalized self-defense and gun laws appears to have stalled in the year since unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla. But states that already had such laws have stuck with them.
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The Trayvon Martin case has been compared with the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, an event that sparked the civil rights movement, and it sparked numerous pro-Trayvon rallies across the country, where many protesters wore hoodies like the one Trayvon had on when he caught Mr. Zimmerman's attention.
"[W]ithout all of that collective action, Zimmerman would be walking around free and would have never seen the inside of a courtroom," writes CNN columnist Roland Martin on Tuesday. "Stand-your-ground laws would exist with nary a peep of opposition; and we would all be living our lives as if all is good."
Nevertheless, a Stand Your Ground Commission that convened in Florida after Trayvon's death found no cause to repeal or substantially change the law. But state Rep. Alan Williams has introduced a bill that would do just that. Police organizations and prosecutor groups have also panned such laws, saying they minimize and marginalize prosecutorial discretion to seek justice.
The case has also energized gun rights proponents and some conservatives, many of whom have made contributions to Zimmerman's defense fund and painted Trayvon in a less-than-favorable light. They have also alleged that the media shaped a false narrative that Trayvon's race played a role in the shooting, noting that Zimmerman himself has black and Hispanic ancestry. In some cases the critics were right: NBC News has apologized for manipulating audio recordings of Zimmerman's 911 call to police that made him sound racist.
Trayvon's death foreshadowed what became a year of deadly shootings, including massacres at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The result has been an unprecedented push by President Obama and Democrats in Washington and across the country to curb the longtime trend toward laxer gun laws. Some scholars say that Trayvon's death – and the public reaction to an apparent miscarriage of justice – is what set off the debate, now growing louder, about the expansion of gun rights in the past decade.
"Before the Trayvon Martin shooting, the issue was, are we going to allow guns in bars and on college campuses and in churches, and that's slowed, even stalled, after the shooting," says Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Law School. "And after Aurora and Newtown, we seem to have reversed course in a way that was not even conceivable before."
What happened to Trayvon "caused Americans to start thinking about the whole gun culture, guns in our society … and rights around when we can carry and who should carry," says Larry Davis, a race scholar at the University of Pittsburgh.