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Bill Cosby says Trayvon Martin case is about gun ownership, not race

Comedian Bill Cosby says the Trayvon Martin case is not about racism, it is about gun ownership. The Trayvon Martin case has also put a spotlight on Stand Your Ground laws.

By Curt AndersonAssociated Press / April 16, 2012

Entertainer Bill Cosby speaks to a rally in New Orleans in 2006. On Saturday, Cosby told CNN "State of the Union" that the Trayvon Martin case has to do with the ownership and use of guns.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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Miami

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby says the debate over the killing of Trayvon Martin should be focused on guns, not race.

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In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" aired Sunday, Cosby said calling George Zimmerman a racist doesn't solve anything. Cosby says the bigger question is what Zimmerman was doing with a gun, and who taught him how to behave with it.

Cosby said during the interview that he once owned a gun but no longer does. He says there is a need to get guns off the streets, and that people should be taught to use every possible alternative before shooting someone.

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The Trayvon Martin shooting has also put a spotlight on the Stand Your Ground laws, which allow the use of lethal force in self defense.

After the Feb. 26 shooting, George Zimmerman persuaded the Sanborn, Fla., police not to charge him for killing unarmed teenager, but last week the state prosecutor has accused him of murder. Soon, armed with unparalleled legal advantages, Zimmerman will get to ask a judge to find the killing was justified, and if that doesn't work, he'll get to make the same case to a jury.

The wave of National Rifle Association-backed legislation that began seven years ago in Florida and continues to sweep the country has done more than establish citizens' right to "stand your ground," as supporters call the laws. It's added second, third and even fourth chances for people who have used lethal force to avoid prosecution and conviction using the same argument, extra opportunities to keep their freedom that defendants accused of other crimes don't get.

Martin's shooting has unleashed a debate across America on the validity of these laws, which exist in some form in most states and which prosecutors and police have generally opposed as confusing, prone to abuse by criminals, and difficult to apply evenly. Others are concerned that the laws foster a vigilante, even trigger-happy mentality that might cause too many unnecessary deaths.

An Associated Press review of federal homicide data doesn't seem to bear that out. Nationwide, the total number of justified homicides by citizens rose from 176 in 2000 to 325 in 2010. Totals for all homicides also rose slightly over the same period, but when adjusted for population growth, the rates actually dipped.

At least two-dozen U.S. states since 2005 have adopted laws similar to Florida's, which broadly eliminated a person's duty to retreat under threat of death or serious injury, as long as the person isn't committing a crime and is in a place where he or she has a right to be. Other states have had similar statutes on the books for decades, and still others grant citizens equivalent protections through established court rulings.

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