Zimmerman tried to sell his gun: It was legal, but was it right?

George Zimmerman planned to sell the gun he used to kill unarmed teen Trayvon Martin on the auction website gunbroker.com, but the item was no longer available there Thursday. 

Joe Burbank/AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel
Sanford police officer Timothy Smith holds up the gun that was killed Trayvon Martin, while testifying in the George Zimmerman trial.

George Zimmerman is convinced he is entitled to auction the gun that killed Trayvon Martin, the black 17-year-old, in Florida in 2012.  

"I'm a free American. I can do what I want with my possessions," Mr. Zimmerman, who was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter, told WOFL, Fox's Orlando affiliate, Wednesday. "What I've decided to do is not cower."  

Naturally, Twitter was afire Wednesday and Thursday with over 90,000 comments about Zimmerman, most proclaiming utter disgust and scorn for him and the sale of the pistol. Among all the tweets that expressed outrage, a video CNN's "New Day" posted of Marc Lamont Hill,  professor of African-American studies at Morehouse College and a commentator for the news network, touched on the heart of this anger.  

"He consistently pokes at the same national wound," said Hill on "New Day" early Thursday. "Can you imagine if O.J. Simpson decided to sell a line of steak knives after the unfortunate killings in the 90s?" 

"Of course he could have done it – of course he was a citizen who was found innocent by his peers. But it would have been insensitive and mean."  

Zimmerman is not guilty in the eyes of the law, and, thus, is not restricted by Florida's version of the "Son of Sam" law, which is designed to prevent felons from profiting from the celebrity status they acquire because of their crimes. And yet, the sale, not to mention the incendiary description on the web page for the auction, further complicates a longstanding debate in the US over the morality of "murderabilia" or, in this case, a criminal trial that helped kindle the #BlackLivesMatter movement. 

Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who killed Martin, was auctioning the 9mm-pistol he fired at the unarmed, hooded teenager, on gunbroker.com. The auction was scheduled to be held from Thursday to Friday, but an error message appeared on the website about 11 a.m. Thursday. "Sorry, but the item you have requested is no longer in the system," the website reads.  

On the web page no longer online, Zimmerman asked for at least $5,000 for the gun, which he said remains operable. In the description of the item, Zimmermann said he does not plan to pocket the money from the sale. Instead, he said, he plans to devote it "to fight [Black Lives Matter] violence against Law Enforcement officers" and "to ensure the demise of Angela [Corey's] persecution career and Hillary Clinton's anti-firearm rhetoric," though The Washington Post reported Zimmerman has not explained exactly how the money would help to do this. Corey was the Florida attorney who prosecuted Zimmerman.  

Zimmerman said he has received numerous inquiries for the gun, including from a Smithsonian museum, although he didn't specify which one. "However, the offers were to use the gun in a fashion I did not feel comfortable with," wrote Zimmerman.   

He added that it has been featured in "several publications" and textbooks already. "This is a piece of American history," he said.

Famous or infamous, there are strong opinions over the ethics of this sale. 

"From a victim's perspective there is nothing more nauseating and disgusting than finding out the person who murdered one of your loved ones now has items being hawked by third parties for pure profit," Andy Kahan, the former director of Houston's Crime Victims Assistance Office, and the man who coined the term "murderabilia," told U.S. News and World Report.   

The effect "murderabilia" or any items involved in a crime can have on victims, emotionally or financially, motivated the New York Legislature to create the first "Son of Sam" law in 1977. The federal government and 40 states have since adopted a version of it, although whether it is a curb on free speech is often debated.  

"When you commit extremely violent crimes, you lose certain rights and privileges. One of them is the ability to tell your story," wrote criminologist Scott Bonn, according to U.S. News and World Report. 

Marc Lamont Hill's parallel of Zimmerman to Simpson is a thorny one because Simpson, although found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in a criminal trial, was found liable for their deaths in a civil trial. Because of this paradox, a federal bankruptcy judge awarded 90 percent of the proceeds of Simpson's book, "If I did it," to Goldman's family and the remaining 10 percent to a trustee in order for Simpson to pay off his creditors, including the multi-million wrongful death judgements owed to the Brown and Goldman families.

Zimmerman, in comparison, was not found guilty of any crimes against Martin, and is free, legally, to auction the gun.

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