The killing of a black teenager by a self-appointed vigilante in Florida has trained a spotlight on gun laws reminiscent of the Wild West in 24 U.S. states. Despite widespread outrage over the Florida case, gun-friendly senators in Washington want to make it easier to extend those laws to most of the country.
That would set the United States, where there are more firearms in private hands than in any other country, even farther apart from the rest of the industrialized world as far as guns are concerned. And it would mark yet another success for the National Rifle Association (NRA) in its long campaign against gun controls.
Before getting into the details of the planned legislation, a brief recapitulation of what happened in the Orlandosuburb of Sanford on February 26: Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student, walked to a family member’s home at night when George Zimmerman, a self-appointed “neighborhood watch captain” spotted him, deemed the teenager suspicious, pursued him and shot him dead with a 9 mm pistol after what he told police was an altercation that made him fear for his life.
Police questioned Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, accepted his account of the incident, and let him go, following the letter or a 2005 Florida state law that allows citizens to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” they face harm. Unlike previous such cases, the teenager’s killing caught national attention, largely because social media served as a vehicle to carry charges of racism and unequal justice to a huge audience.
On March 8, Martin’s parents posted a “petition to prosecute the killer of our son” on the website change.org.