George Zimmerman was acquitted. Florida’s system for carrying concealed firearms was convicted.
If Mr. Zimmerman merely had owned the 9mm pistol he used to kill Trayvon Martin, the teenager would be an adult and Mr. Zimmerman would be just another resident of the Disney metroplex. But in 2009, he obtained a concealed carry permit. So he legally was armed on Feb. 26, 2012, when from his truck in the Orlando suburb of Sanford he focused on hoodie-wearing Trayvon Martin, ignored a police dispatcher and pursued the unarmed teenager.
During the trial, Mr. Zimmerman’s attorneys portrayed their client as close to a couch potato. Out of shape. Overweight. All the better to support his claim of self-defense, pinned on his back and being whaled on by a scary black kid who had confronted him after being confronted. Note how Mr. Zimmerman told investigators that Mr. Martin said, “Your (sic) gonna die tonight, m——-f—-er,” as opposed to just “You’re going to die tonight.” And that’s assuming Mr. Martin said anything like that.
But if Mr. Zimmerman is the pudgy wimp his legal team made him out to be, would he have pursued Trayvon Martin if he hadn’t been carrying a gun? Neighborhood watch volunteers are not supposed to carry weapons or do the work of police officers. They are supposed to be eyes and ears only. “Are you following him?” the Sanford police dispatcher asked that night. “Yeah,” Mr. Zimmerman responded.” “OK,” said the dispatcher, “we don’t need you to do that.”
Instead, Mr. Zimmerman did “do that.” He could do so with a pistol, because when he applied for his concealed carry permit he met all the requirements of Florida Statute 790.06. He had no “physical infirmity.” He had no felony convictions. He had not had more than two drunken driving offenses in the last three years. (None, in his case.) He had not been judged by a court to have been incapacitated, or had less than five years pass since being judged as incapacitated. He had no injunctions or restraining orders against him. He had taken a course to demonstrate “competence with a firearm.”
Yet George Zimmerman hardly was an ideal candidate for carrying a concealed weapon. In 2005, he had been arrested for assaulting a police officer, who was attempting to arrest Mr. Zimmerman’s friend for underage drinking. That charge was negotiated down to a misdemeanor. Also in 2005, Mr. Zimmerman’s ex-fiancee accused him of shoving her during an argument. Mr. Zimmerman claimed that she had been the aggressor. Sound familiar?
That incident resulted in dual restraining orders. The one against Mr. Zimmerman expired three years before he obtained his concealed carry permit. Also in 2005, according to The New York Daily News, Mr. Zimmerman was fired from his job as a bouncer for being “too aggressive.”
With that background, Mr. Zimmerman should have been a poor candidate even to own a gun. If the state had a more restrictive policy on concealed carry permits, Mr. Zimmerman might have been denied. But in Florida, passing a two-hour course and paying $117 will get you a permit for seven years. And in December, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam boasted that Florida was about to reach one million concealed carry permits. His office issues them.
Since Saturday night’s verdict, we’ve heard little from gun-rights groups. That’s because their argument for issuing concealed carry permits like lottery tickets is that more guns means less violence. Not in this case. Those groups also worried that an acquittal would mean new calls to change or repeal Florida’s “stand your ground” law. While Mr. Zimmerman didn’t invoke it, the law has changed jury instructions to benefit defendants even more in self-defense cases.
After Mr. Zimmerman’s arrest, the stand your ground sponsors and others stressed that they never meant for the law to cover those who provoke fatal confrontations. Last week, the 4th District Court of Appeal tossed an assault conviction against a Broward County student who fought back after being attacked by another student on a school bus. The trial judge had ruled that stand your ground applied only to one’s home or personal vehicle.
So if the the law protected that student, why didn’t it protect Trayvon Martin? Did he really come after George Zimmerman, or did Trayvon Martin believe that he had to fight for his life because an armed stranger approached him? All we have is one side of the story, which happens often in stand your ground cases. Usually, though, the story comes from a much more sympathetic potential victim.
Mr. Zimmerman is far from sympathetic. There is responsible gun ownership, and there is George Zimmerman’s gun ownership. The myth of concealed carry is that ordinary citizens, after the most minimal training, will know how to use firearms properly under duress. George Zimmerman needed good judgment that night, not a gun. He lacked the judgment but had the gun. And under Florida law, he still can carry a concealed weapon. When will Florida stand its ground and stop being the “Gunshine State?”