George Zimmerman, who became a folk hero to some after he beat a murder rap in the killing of an unarmed black teenager, has been ordered to surrender his weapons after being arrested for a third time for domestic violence.
Mr. Zimmerman, who told the Orlando Sentinel last fall that he’s jobless, homeless and broke, was arrested in Lake Mary, Fla., on Friday night for aggravated assault. Although he has had several run-ins with the law since his 2013 acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin, this was the first time after the verdict that a judge ordered him to surrender his arms.
Weapons were apparently not involved in the Friday night incident, details of which are still sketchy. According to his attorney, Zimmerman was charged for allegedly throwing a bottle of wine at his girlfriend earlier in the week at a residence in Lake Mary, Fla.
The shooting of Trayvon and the subsequent failure of the Sanford, Fla., Police Department to charge Zimmerman polarized America.
Zimmerman encountered the 17-year-old on a rainy February evening and, suspecting him of being a criminal, pursued him into the back of a darkened condo complex. When Trayvon punched and straddled him, Zimmerman pulled out his gun and shot the teenager once in the chest, killing him. A state-appointed prosecutor later indicted Zimmerman, and a year later a six-person jury acquitted him on self-defense grounds.
Zimmerman’s act and trial raised questions in America about liberalized self-defense laws that critics say seem to allow vigilantism against young black men.
But for many in the gun community, Zimmerman had done nothing wrong, and had, in fact, become a poster boy for the responsible but beleaguered gun owner protecting his neighborhood, and himself, under the law. Last March, he drew well-wishers to an autograph signing at an Orlando gun show, and in 2013 he toured a factory of the gunmaker that made the pistol he used to kill Martin.
But lately, Zimmerman’s role as gun rights spokesman has become complicated.
In September 2013, the Associated Press reports, Zimmerman's estranged wife, Shellie Zimmerman, called 911 to tell police he had punched her father and was threatening her with a gun. A year later, Zimmerman was arrested on domestic abuse allegations, but charges, as in the first case, were dropped.
A truck driver who said Zimmerman, in a recent road rage incident, threatened “I’ll kill you, don’t you know who I am?” noted that there was a gun involved in that incident.
But Zimmerman has retained celebrity status.
“If I Had a Son,” a book about how Zimmerman was allegedly railroaded by the media, “tells how for the first time in the history of American jurisprudence, a state government, the U.S. Department of Justice, the White House, the major media, the entertainment industry and the vestiges of the civil rights movement conspired to put an innocent man in prison for the rest of his life,” according to the conservative World News Daily website.
In an interview with “Armed America Radio” in December, Zimmerman warned gun owners to be careful. “Go to the range to practice, keep your guns in a safe location, and primarily, now that I know that I’m $2.5 million in debt, just in lawyers’ fees, I paid over $360,000 in hard costs to the state …,” he told listeners. “I would definitely invest in getting some type of self-defense insurance and again, arming yourself with the knowledge of what you can do and what you should or shouldn’t do after the incident.”
Zimmerman blamed the media for his problems. “Don’t read comments on blogs, don’t read comments on newspapers,” he said. “Those are all people that have never been in your situation, and it’s unfair to Monday-morning quarterback or armchair quarterback, to put yourself through that; you will drive yourself mad.”
To be sure, the popularity of Zimmerman among some Americans has been difficult to navigate, particularly on the American right.
Last year, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough noted, “There’s a certain faction of the American political system that has embraced George Zimmerman as a hero. I said from day one, during the trial, that it was going to be hard to convict this man. That doesn’t mean that many on the far right need to embrace this man ….”
News that the state no longer trusts Zimmerman with firearms raised concern among some about his ability to defend himself against enemies. In the “Armed America Radio” interview, Zimmerman reported that he still gets death threats and noted that there was no expiration on the “wanted: dead or alive” posters created by some of his critics.