Commentary: I Find theTrayvon Martin Case Troubling


A number of people have noted to me over the past few weeks that I have been unusually quiet about the Trayvon Martin shooting.  The truth is that I have withheld judgment on this case, and thus commentary, precisely because something did not sit well with me.

This is indeed a horrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the family of Mr. Martin.  But frankly I am appalled at the conduct of the media and in particular the TV networks who, for some time, seemed to be seizing on the thinnest of reeds to condemn George Zimmerman and make this into an act of racism.

I am going to state here at the start – I do not know what happened, I’m certainly not about to defend the shooting of Trayvon Martin, I have problems with Florida’s vigilante laws and I have problems with Mr. Zimmerman carrying a firearm, which likely contributed to this tragedy.

However, the fact is, much as I thought Casey Anthony got a raw deal by the media, I think it has been ten times worse for George Zimmerman, and the culprit appears to be NBC News.

We start with the misreporting, which is frankly a kind word, by NBC, apparently, of the 911 call. NBC is, of course, claiming an error.  Right.  They apologize: “During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret. We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers.”

The error made it sound like Mr. Zimmerman called to report the suspicious person because he was black. The accurate statement makes it clear that Mr. Zimmeman reported the suspicious person and was asked by dispatch his race and only then reported that “he looks black.”

Big difference, wouldn’t you say?  That does not mean that Mr. Zimmerman should have drawn this kind of attention, because as we know he was likely on the phone with his girlfriend, and so this description: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about” could frankly describe me in the midst of an animated discussion.

Bottom line, Mr. Zimmerman may have erred in judgment here, he may have erred in judgment because Mr. Martin was black, but that is not an excuse for the networks to have completely botched the reporting on the 911 call.

It was reported, “An internal NBC News probe has determined a ‘seasoned’ producer was to blame for a misleading clip of a 911 call that the network broadcast during its coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting, according to two sources at the network.”

Of course, they call it “a very bad mistake” but “not deliberate.”  Does anyone really believe that?

The media, it turns out, botched the reporting on the video, as well.  The media reported that there were no signs of injury on Mr. Zimmerman.  People close to Mr. Zimmerman suggested that the video was simply grainy and did not have the kind of detail needed.

Turns out an enhanced video, done this time by ABC News, shows signs of injury on Zimmeman’s head.

ABC’s Matt Gutman said the network re-digitized the video to reveal what appears to be “a pair of gashes or welts” on the back of Zimmerman’s head.  Mr. Zimmerman told investigators that Mr. Martin “jumped him from behind, punched him in the nose and pounded his head into the sidewalk.”

Now there may be evidence that this is what had happened.

Let us step back from the lousy reporting on this matter to look at the bigger picture, at least from my perspective.

The fact is that we do not know what happened.  The news media got details of this – critical details – wrong.  There was a rush to judgment on this matter.  There are people who were, quite frankly, ready to convict Mr. Zimmerman of murder and a hate crime.

Some people might be surprised to hear me report this.  They would expect the Vanguard to jump on the bandwagon.  But we have spent too much time in the courtroom watching assertions and allegations dissolve into unresolved gray areas to believe that there could be such a black and white picture emerge, to have the police and investigators for the prosecution simply ignore it.

We have been fighting against wrongful convictions, which result from anything from prosecutorial misconduct to eyewitness error, and now we are going to jump on the bandwagon of prosecuting a guy based on thin reeds and innuendo?  No, I don’t think so.

Do I trust the police or the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office to get this right?  Not exactly.  But I trust them more to get it right than a bunch of hungry reporters itching for a quick bang from their story.

This case is everything that is wrong with crime reporting in this country.  It is sensational.  It is hastily performed.  It relies on very thin reeds of evidence on its basis.  And often the assumptions do not hold up to careful scrutiny.

The result in a lot of these high profile cases is the defendant gets railroaded and the public is shocked when the person is either not prosecuted or is acquitted.

The Casey Anthony case is a classic example.  The prosecution did not have the evidence to directly link Ms. Anthony to the death of her daughter.  In fact, to me it is not even clear that they have proved it was a homicide.

One common thread in this present case, to the Casey Anthony case, is the presumption that we will know how to read the body language of a killer from the body language of someone involved in some horrible accident.

One of the thin pieces of evidence that people have suggested in the present case is that Mr. Zimmerman was calm and almost matter of fact during the video of Mr. Zimmerman’s police station encounter.

I think we need to stop presuming we know how someone is going to react to a horrible tragedy.  Recall Cameron Todd Willingham, whose kids were tragically killed in a fire.  Mr. Willingham was convicted of arson and executed based on faulty forensic science investigation.

But one of the key pieces of evidence was his reaction to the tragedy, where he was seen the night of the death drinking and partying it up.  Witnesses surmised that meant he was guilty because that is not how they think a mourning father would react to the death of his children.

We now know, based on new scientific examination of that evidence, that there was no arson and therefore no crime.  What we should learn from that is that we do not know how someone is going to respond to horrible news and maybe, just maybe, it is not going to be the way we think someone ought to react.

But when the media gets together in these frenzies they throw out all logic and get to the witch hunt.

So instead of trying and convicting the guy in the press, let us allow the professionals to conduct their investigation and try to get this one right.  There will be plenty of time for second guessing later, but any second guessing should be done based on thorough and complete investigative journalism rather than hunches and guesses.

I sympathize with the family of Trayvon Martin.  I am concerned about his death and feel that it was not necessary.  But I want to know the truth about what happened before I decide what went wrong.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. JustSaying

    Agree that the reporting (and the investigation) on this was lousy and hopeless from the beginning, even before it became politicized reporting (liberal vs. conservative).

    But it’s not too early to draw a number of conclusions from the undisputed reports. The sooner we evaluate and discuss some of the issues here, the sooner we might figure ways to avoid a repeat.

    Zimmerman placed himself in a position that ended in the unwarranted death of an innocent kid. He carried a gun, against the Neighborhood Watch rules and training he received. He stalked Martin, also in violation of NW rules and direct instructions from the 911 operator. He used racist language.

    The initial investigation may or may not prove adequate if he’s tried, but the decision to not charge him and to quit investigating was worse than stupid and problematic. And claiming these decisions were made because Florida has a “stand your ground” law with such minimal standards to “justify” killing another person is horribly misguided.

    Zimmerman may get off without being convicted, but there’s already much more than “thin reeds” of evidence to indicate that he and his misguided choices are responsible for the death of an unarmed child. This case is much more than an “error in judgement,” or even a series of judgement errors by several people.

    If it turns out that the law is on his side or that the investigation was inadequate to determine what really happened, he’s innocent. But, that doesn’t suggest that he’s not culpable for a terrible act that he committed.

    I agree that we need to wait for the “professionals” to do their job, not that you’ve expressed much faith in them in the past. But, don’t forget the professionals are the ones who screwed up this case initially and the ones who provided the “evidence” that ended up in Willingham’s execution and Anthony’s acquittal.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    See [url][/url]
    [quote]Crump said public records show that Zimmerman was arrested in Orange County in 2005 on charges of resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer.

    “They just lied to the family,” Crump said. “They just couldn’t see why [Zimmerman] would do anything wrong or be violent. But not only do you know the guy killed this kid, because he admitted to it, you knew that he has a propensity for violence because of his past record.”

    The Orange County Clerk of Courts website shows a man named George Zimmerman, 28, was charged in July 2005 with resisting arrest with violence and battery on an officer. The charges appear to have been dropped.[/quote]

  3. E Roberts Musser

    Also see [url][/url]
    [quote]A volunteer community watch captain who shot an unarmed Florida teenager to death last month had been the subject of complaints by neighbors in his gated community for aggressive tactics, some homeowners said.

    George Zimmerman has not been charged in the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon
    Martin, 17, who was walking home from a convenience store in Sanford,
    Fla., near Orlando. Zimmerman, who patrolled the Retreat at Twin Lakes
    development in his own car, had been called aggressive in earlier
    complaints by other people to the local police and the homeowner’s association.

    One man openly expressed his frustration
    because he had previously contacted the Sanford Police Department about
    Zimmerman approaching him and even coming to his home,” the resident
    wrote in an email to Huff Post. It was also made known that there had
    been several complaints about George Zimmerman and his tactics from others in his
    neighborhood watch captain role.[/quote]

  4. E Roberts Musser

    Also see [url][/url]
    [quote]TAMPA — Two men meet at a park one Sunday afternoon in September. One is playing basketball with his daughter. The other has a gun tucked in his pants.

    The two men argue about a kid who’s skateboarding. The man with the gun tries to enforce the rules. The other man lunges.

    The unarmed man takes his last breath in front of his 8-year-old daughter. Two days later, authorities charge the gun owner with manslaughter.

    Case closed? Maybe not.

    If history serves, the gunman stands a very good chance in court. The case may not even make it to trial.

    That’s because of Florida Statute 776.013(3), which took effect five years ago this month. The old law gave you the right to protect yourself with deadly force inside your home. The 2005 law gives you the right to protect yourself in a park, outside a Chili’s, on a highway — just about anywhere.

    You need only to “reasonably believe” that pulling the trigger or plunging the knife or swinging the bat is necessary to stop the other person from hurting you.

    Reports of justifiable homicides tripled after the law went into effect, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Last year, twice a week, on average, someone’s killing was considered warranted.[/quote]

  5. JustSaying

    Of course, just because Zimmerman appears to have a history of violent trouble-making doesn’t make him guilty of first degree murder of an unarmed kid, Elaine.

    But, the idea of a law that says killing someone is okay (or justifiable or warranted) if you [u]say[/u] that you believed killing someone was necessary to keep him from hurting you is just sick.

    Why walk away from some stupid argument or restrain from firing if you’re carrying a gun? Just kill the son-of-a-bitch and say whatever you want because there were just too of you and contrary evidence isn’t collected or considered because of the law.

  6. JustSaying

    “just [s]too[/s] two of you….” Spell-check, why doesn’t it work?

    In this case, the language used by the killer, the fact that he’s well-off with a judge for a father in a community already under fire for a history of police racism, etc., breeds more (justifiable?) suspicion that race matters in this case and that justice won’t happen without someone keeping a watchful eye.

  7. Rifkin

    My take–shocking to me to discover–is pretty much the same as David’s.

    I think the overwhelming lesson from this tragedy at this point should be: We are not well served to have amateur “neighborhood watch” people walking around at night with loaded weapons. If the police think it will help to have a neighborhood watch patrol at all, I think having a good flashlight and a cell phone (to call 911) would avoid what happened to Trayvon Martin.

    The evidence as to whether Trayvon assaulted George Zimmerman and Zimmerman then killed Martin in self-defense seems to be unclear. CNN had a witness (disguised in shadow and voice altered) who heard every the disturbance going on and called 911. It was her call on which you can hear the pop sound of gunfire in the background. She implied that she thought the man with the older sounding voice (presumably Zimmerman) was the aggressor. Another witness, who also called 911, said Trayvon was the aggressor. I am too ignorant to speculate on that. But even if Trayvon Martin did attack George Zimmerman, it certainly could have been because he thought Zimmerman was “stalking” him and he needed to act to defend himself.

  8. Rifkin

    One aspect of the coverage of the Trayvon Martin case reminds me of a great Tom Wolfe novel called “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” I read Wolfe’s book about 25 years ago, so I may have this detail slightly wrong. But I recall that the story revolves around a “crime” where a wealthy white bond trader kills a poor, young, black male, in a car on pedestrian accident. The question is whether it was an accident or whether the white guy is guilty of an act of homicide.

    In the story, the boy who was killed is reported to be some kind of a saint: an honor student with no criminal record and a model citizen in every respect. (The man leading the charge of this boy’s [i]goodness[/i] is called Rev. Reginald Bacon. Bacon was clearly modeled after Rev. Al Sharpton, who again is taking up the Trayvon Martin cause.) As the story plays out, we learn that the kid who was killed was hardly an angel. In fact, he was a known troublemaker with a criminal history.

    Much of the reporting on Trayvon–at least at first–seemed to portray Trayvon as an angel. Just look at almost all of the published pictures of him, which were taken 3 or 4 years ago and released by his family. Almost no recent pictures of Trayvon have been released. Why not? Because he does not look quite so angelic at 17 as he did at 13? (I am not sure how he looked at the time he was killed. It has been reported he had many tattoos, including one on his neck. And that he wore “a grill of gold” over his teeth.)

    Trayvon was clearly troubled in some respects. The fact that he had been out of school on suspension when he was killed is telling enough. I have read recently that he had been suspended three times ([url][/url]). Well adjusted children are not normally suspended multiple times from school, even if the discovery of “pot residue” in his book seems rather unimportant. (I should add, of course, that being a “troubled kid” does not justify him being killed.)

  9. biddlin

    Sorry, but an armed vigilante who shoots an unarmed kid, after being told to disengage by police leaves little doubt about culpability. What I will generously call Zimmerman’s BS story is backed by little physical evidence . Find the media irresponsible, wish Trayvon had made different choices, reflect on the folly of the “Stand Your Ground ” laws, but convict this thug and send the important message first . I believe he would have gotten his usual “Bully’s Pass” if the media and Trayvon’s family hadn’t made noise .

  10. craised

    Consider what you would do if you saw a person who you judged to be up to no good in your neighborhood. You can define that however you want, but you legitimately believe that they are about to commit a crime. Of course, you call the cops. Do you also walk out into your front yard to get a better view? Do you walk onto the sidewalk? If they go around the corner of the block, do you walk to the corner so you can see what direction they went? If you do, are you now “stalking” them?

    My point is that there is a viewpoint from which nothing that we know that Zimmerman did is in any way illegal. Bad judgement? Maybe. But it’s not illegal to walk down the street behind another person. It’s not illegal to stand and watch what a person does on a public street. And, given that, I think it may be harder than it seems to negate Zimmerman’s self-defense claim simply because he was following Martin.

    Heck, even if he approached Martin and confronted him, the self-defense claim may stand. If I see someone peering into my neighbor’s window and I go out and say, “Hey. What are you doing there,” and then they attack me, can I claim self-defense? You betcha. That is what Zimmerman is claiming happened. You can believe it, or not, or withhold judgement, but the claim in and of itself seems consistent with self-defense to me.

  11. Rifkin

    [i]”Sorry, but an armed vigilante who shoots an unarmed kid, [b]after being told to disengage[/b] by police leaves little doubt about culpability.”[/i]

    This “fact” is still in question. On CNN they played the 911 call Zimmerman made, where the operator tells him to not follow the suspect. Zimmerman replied, “okay.” One of his supporters–I don’t recall who it was–says that Zimmerman stopped pursuing Martin at that point and that was when Martin attacked Zimmerman.

    [i]”… convict this thug and send the important message first.”[/i]

    This attitude, which seems to be common among the outspoke Trayvon supporters, is a lynch mob mentality. It is the same mindset which led to the murder of Leo Frank ([url][/url]).

  12. eagle eye

    What we know for sure about police handling of this case is troubling.
    Free Speech TV reported yesterday that police refused initially to speak
    to an eye witness at all, and, belatedly, their contact with the eye witness was far less than satisfactory.
    The video of Zimmerman exiting the police car and entering the police station is amazing: although he’s just killed someone, the police are very casual with him, not so much as even walking beside him, barely patting him down.

  13. craised

    Putting aside the urine-poor job of the media, a question comes to mind:

    How did an out of shape and overweight Zimmerman chase down a high school football player? That makes absolutely no sense. Recall the claims of Martin’s girlfriend…she claimed to be on the phone with Martin and advised him to run. If he ran or even walked fast, Zimmerman would be in no shape to catch Martin.

  14. Rifkin

    [i]”How did an out of shape and overweight Zimmerman chase down a high school football player?”[/i]

    If that is what happened–it’s far from certain it did–I think it is explainable. Keep these two facts in mind: George Zimmerman lived in the gated community; Trayvon Martin was there visiting his father, and may not have known the ins and outs of the place too well; and second, it was very dark outside. Martin told the 911 operator he thought the youth in question was black, but even that sounded like he was not sure. The lady witness 911 caller said it was too dark where the confrontation was taking place to tell the races of the people she heard. She could only tell one sounded mature, the other younger. This witness said that where Zimmerman killed Martin was on the outside edge of the gated community on a grass path with no lighting. So it is possible that with Martin not knowing the place and possibly in a dead end spot, he could not figure out how to safely run away.

  15. JustSaying

    “If the police think it will help to have a neighborhood watch patrol at all, I think having a good flashlight and a cell phone (to call 911) would avoid what happened to Trayvon Martin.”

    You are exactly correct. This is exactly the training and instructions under which Zimmerman operated as a Neighborhood Watch captain. If the 911 operator had a clue that he was carrying a gun, he would have been much more assertive in telling him to stop following Martin.

    You’re also correct, craised, with the scenario about the pssible incremental nature of someone who ends up stalking a black person in a neighborhood in which he “doesn’t belong.” But, do you really think a reasonable person would undertake such a surveillance. How much would packing heat encourage suck stalking?

    The big problem, I think, is that we’ll never know who initiated the confrontation, only that Zimmerman had no business doing what he did. Did he pull his gun on Martin, leading Martin to defend himself with his fists? Did he shoot him because he mouthed off? Because he got scared? Because he thought a gun was an appropriate lethal response to being attacked by a kid?

    Hard to ever know what happened since Zimmerman shot the only witness dead….

  16. Phil Coleman

    I don’t know what happened either. It seems the more information we hear the more muddled it becomes. At this juncture rendered opinions are many and unyielding. Consequently, the real truth may never be known.

    The term, “prejudice,” is derived from the Latin origin of “pre-judge.” Most definitely, this incident was pre-judged by many persons and entities, particularly the media?

    NBC News did not “botch” or make an “error.” They committed an act of prejudice in the literal sense of the word.

  17. hpierce

    I have been in a couple of situations where I had good reason to believe that someone had a potentially lethal weapon (6″ knife, in both cases), was behaving strangely (one time they were definitely under the influence of drugs), and I prepared my un-armed self to use lethal force to stop them if they handled their weapon. They didn’t, and I didn’t. There is a concept of ‘proportional force’. There has been no disclosure to date that Tryvon was carrying a lethal weapon, or was using lethal force w/o a weapon. [yeah, I suppose you could die if someone shoved enough Skittles in your nose and mouth, but I think I could avoid that without shooting someone dead.]

  18. craised

    Here is the statement from the Sanford City Manager

    Fellow Citizens:

    There has been a lot of media attention to the recent incident where George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. This is indeed a tragic situation and has caused a flood of questions and strong emotions from within our community, the region and nation. On behalf of the employees of the City of Sanford, Our deepest sympathy and prayers go out to the family and friends of Trayvon Martin. As a father, I can only image the pain Trayvon’s family must be going though. In an effort to continue to be as responsive as possible to the public seeking information on the incident, I have asked Chief Lee to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this matter. Below are his responses. Please understand that since this is still an ongoing investigation, the Police Department is limited in what information it can publicly release.
    The City of Sanford is committed to insuring that justice is served and, therefore, the City of Sanford has contacted the United States Attorney General’s Office for assistance in this matter.
    The men and women of the Sanford Police Department extend our heartfelt sympathies to the Martin family. This is indeed a tragic situation. The death of anyone due to violence, especially a 17 year old young man, is morally appalling. As this incident has generated a lot of media attention, we wanted to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

    Why was George Zimmerman not arrested the night of the shooting?

    When the Sanford Police Department arrived at the scene of the incident, Mr. Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony. By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time. Additionally, when any police officer makes an arrest for any reason, the officer MUST swear and affirm that he/she is making the arrest in good faith and with probable cause. If the arrest is done maliciously and in bad faith, the officer and the City may be held liable.

  19. craised

    According to Florida Statute 776.032 : 776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—
    (1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.
    (2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.
    Why weren’t the 911 tapes initially released?
    There are exemptions to the public records laws for active criminal intelligence and for ongoing investigations. In this instance, the 911 calls made by neighbors in the subdivision, and the non- emergency call made by Mr. Zimmerman are all key to the investigation by Sanford Police Department. In consultation with the Office of the State Attorney, the Sanford police department had decided not to release the audio recordings of the 911 calls due to the ongoing investigation. Many times, specific information is contained in those recordings which is vital to the integrity of the investigation. At the time, it was determined that if revealed, the information may compromise the integrity of the investigation prior to its completion. The 911 tapes have since been released.
    Why did Mr. Zimmerman have a firearm in his possession while acting in the role of a neighborhood watch member?
    Mr. Zimmerman holds a concealed weapon permit issued from the State of Florida. He is authorized to carry the weapon in a concealed manner wherever Florida Statute dictates. Neighborhood Watch programs are designed for members of a neighborhood to be “eyes and ears” for police and to watch out for their neighbors. They are not members of the Police Department nor are they vigilantes. Training provided by law enforcement agencies to Neighborhood Watch organizations stresses non-contact surveillance of suspicious situations and notifying police of those situations so that law enforcement can respond and take control of the situation.
    Mr. Zimmerman was not acting outside the legal boundaries of Florida Statute by carrying his weapon when this incident occurred. He was in fact on a personal errand in his vehicle when he observed Mr. Martin in the community and called the Sanford Police Department.

  20. craised

    If Zimmerman was told not to continue to follow Trayvon, can that be considered in this investigation?
    Yes it will; however, the telecommunications call taker asked Zimmerman “are you following him”. Zimmerman replied, “yes”. The call taker stated “you don’t need to do that”. The call taker’s suggestion is not a lawful order that Mr. Zimmerman would be required to follow. Zimmerman’s statement was that he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon.
    Why was George Zimmerman labeled as “squeaky clean” when in fact he has a prior arrest history?
    In one of the initial meetings with the father of the victim the investigator related to him the account that Mr. Zimmerman provided of the incident. At that time the investigator said that Mr. Zimmerman portrayed himself to be “squeaky clean”. We are aware of the background information regarding both individuals involved in this event. We believe Mr. Martin may have misconstrued this information. What about media reenactments of the shooting incident? Any media reenactments of the shooting incident are purely speculation. To date the Sanford Police Department has not released any rendition of the events of the evening to anyone other than the Office of the State Attorney. The renditions we have seen are not consistent with the evidence in this case.
    The Sanford Police Department has conducted a complete and fair investigation of this incident. We have provided the results of our investigation to the Office of the State Attorney for their review and consideration for possible criminal prosecution.
    Although the Police Department is the target of the troubling questions, let me assure you we too feel the pain of this senseless tragedy that has dramatically affected our community. Therefore, as we move forward and strive to answer the questions that are a point of controversy in the community, we ask for your patience, understanding and assistance in getting the correct information to the community.
    Thank you,
    Norton N. Bonaparte, Jr., ICMA-CM City Manager March 19, 2012

  21. Rifkin

    [i]”Mr. Zimmerman holds a concealed weapon permit issued from the State of Florida. He is authorized to carry the weapon in a concealed manner wherever Florida Statute dictates.”[/i]

    Although the NRA and other pro-gun groups are in favor of amateurs packing heat, I think it is a terrible idea. It is one thing, in my opinion, to keep a loaded gun in your home*. It’s quite another for a rank amateur to walk around with a loaded gun. Unless someone needs to carry a weapon for professional reasons, I think our society would be better off not having the George Zimmermans or others who are not required for good reason to have a weapon, armed.

    I realize that the NRA types say that if we outlaw civilians from carrying around a loaded gun, then only the cops abd the criminals will be packing heat, and if no cop is around, the innocent will have no way to defend themselves from armed criminals. There are a couple of huge holes in this NRA theory: one, unless you are actively looking for trouble (as it sounds to me like George Zimmerman was, hence the large number of calls he has made to 911 over the years), the chances you are going to encounter an armed criminal who you need to shoot is extremely remote, probably 1/1,000th as likely as your gun accidentally shooting you; and two, if you do encounter an armed criminal in a public place, where you pull out your loaded gun and take aim at the person you think is a criminal, chances are pretty strong that innocent bystanders will be killed, either by you or by the other guy, once the shots start flying.

  22. Rifkin

    * From the Brady Campaign: “Gun death rates are 7 times higher in the states with the highest compared with the lowest household gun ownership. (Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Injury Control Research Center, 2009). An estimated 41% of gun-related homicides and 94% of gun-related suicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present (Wiebe, p. 780). Household gun ownership levels vary greatly by state, from 60 percent in Wyoming to 9 percent in Hawaii (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2001). States with the highest levels of gun ownership have 114 percent higher firearm homicide rates and 60 percent higher homicide rates than states with the lowest gun ownership (Miller, Hemenway, and Azrael, 2007, pp. 659, 660). The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms (Kellermann, 1993, p. 1084). Higher gun ownership puts both men and women at a higher risk for homicide, particularly gun homicide (Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Injury Control Research Center, 2009). Keeping a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide by a factor of 3 to 5 and increases the risk of suicide with a firearm by a factor of 17 (Kellermann, p. 467, p. Wiebe, p. 771). The association between firearm ownership and increased risk of suicide cannot be explained by a higher risk of psychiatric disorders in homes with guns (Miller, p. 183). Every time a gun injures or kills in self-defense, it is used: 11 times for completed and attempted suicides (Kellermann, 1998, p. 263); 7 times in criminal assaults and homicides; and 4 times in unintentional shooting deaths or injuries. In almost half of unintentional shooting deaths (49 percent), the victim is shot by another person. In virtually all of these cases, the shooter and victim knew each other (Hemenway, p. 1184). Of youths who committed suicide with firearms, 82% obtained the firearm from their home, usually a parent’s firearm (The National Violent Injury Statistics System, p. 2).”

  23. craised

    I believe that crime, such as robberies and muggings, does drop in areas where concealed carry is allowed and in areas where people tend to take advantage of this. Society is safer when the criminals do not know who is armed. Polls of inmates arrested for commiting robberies, muggings, car jackings, home break-ins, etc, have overwhelmingly shown that their #1 fear was that their intended victims were armed. That’s before the fear of police, going to jail, and everything else BY FAR. That’s why “Gun Free Zones” are often referred to as “defenseless victim zones.” Wisconsin will be a great case study, since the state just went from decades of tight gun control where people had no means of legally carrying a weapon outside of their own homes, to a system where people can concealed carry. We’ll see what happens to crime stats. I’d bet dollars to donuts that violent crime rates drop a little. Keep in mind that gun sales and gun ownership is at an all time high, but violent crime is near an all time low, despite “the economy.” There is no connection between private firearms ownership and crime rates, nor has anyone proven any difference between crime rates in areas where you can CCW and in areas where you can’t. The sudden and specific change in WI will be important for this statistic.

  24. Rifkin

    [i]” I’d bet dollars to donuts that violent crime rates drop a little.”[/i]

    That is not much of a bet. Violent crime rates have been dropping in Wisconsin (and in every state) for years. From 2007 to 2010, the violent crime rate in Wisconsin fell from 2.91 violent crimes per 1,000 residents to 2.49 and there was no change in concealed carry laws to account for that 14.5% decline in violent crime.

    Going back further in time, the murder rate in Wisconsin in 1990 was 4.60 per 100,000 residents. In 2009, it fell to a low of 2.58. In 2010 it jumped back up to 2.73.

    You may be willing to bet that the violent crime rate drops “a little.” But if a lot more people are carrying firearms, I am willing to bet a lot that the rate of successful suicides will climb, that the number of people killed by guns will climb, and that the number of unintentional gun deaths will climb.

  25. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Of course, just because Zimmerman appears to have a history of violent trouble-making doesn’t make him guilty of first degree murder of an unarmed kid, Elaine. [/quote]

    I made no statements indicating I felt one way or the other about this case. I just presented some evidence that I thought might be thought provoking…

  26. jimt


    Good article; good to see you have the good judgement to with-hold judgement!
    Hopefully more facts will come out on the case eventually–for example, did Zimmerman really have a broken or damaged nose and gashes on the back of his head (easy to check from the Hospital records or doctors statement, if indeed Zimmerman went to Hospital next day).
    Recording of screams for help–professional voice-print analysis may be able to tell (if original recording is good enough) if this was Zimmerman or Martin or someone else.

    Glad you focused on how irresponsible the media has been in reporting this–I might add the persistent showing of a good-looking and innocent and wholesome portrait of a 13-yr(?) old Trayvon next to one of Zimmerman looking unhappy in an orange jump-suit.
    My opinion of main-stream media, already low before this case, has become tinged with disgust and contempt. Any wonder newspapers are going out of business or that the big 3 are losing viewers?

  27. jimt

    Regarding Rifkin’s postings on gun death statistics,

    Interesting post! I wonder if gun ownership is higher in more crime-prone areas? Don’t do or imply what the mainstream media does, and conflate correlation and causation!
    Do states with more restrictive gun laws have lower rates of gun use by criminals?
    Regarding the suicide statistics; do those areas with low gun-related suicides have higher rates of suicide by other means (e.g. poisoning, leaping from high places, etc.)? I guess I don’t know what percentage of suicides are impulsive and thus perhaps more likely to happen if a gun is handy, and what percentage result from a more grim sustained determination to end it all, in which case if a gun is not handy, other means will do.

  28. rdcanning

    Jimt asks if states with more restrictive gun laws have higher rates of suicide by other means (e.g. poisoning, leaping from high places, etc)

    The best place to start to answer that question is the website “Means Matters.” There is plenty of evidence (as Rifkin points out) that high gun ownership states have higher rates of gun suicide (even after controlling for a lot of variables like rates of psychiatric disorder, substance abuse, and demographics). If one compares high gun ownership states with low gun ownership (see: it’s easy to see that the higher number of suicides in the high gun states is due to guns. In fact high and low ownership states had almost the same number of non-gun suicides.

    Another angle is to look at what happens to the suicide rate when the number of guns in a community is reduced. Australia instituted a gun buy-back program in 1996 and the evidence suggests (but is not entirely conclusive) that this program has reduced suicide rates in Australia (see: (There are opposing arguments but judge for yourself.)

    As a mental health professional, the evidence is pretty clear that if we reduce easy access to loaded guns (trigger locks, locked gun cabinets, keeping ammo separate, etc.) we can reduce suicide – particularly among men – who have the highest rates.

  29. rdcanning

    JimT: I didn’t address your question exactly, but my hunch (and only a hunch) is that states with higher gun ownership are states with less restrictive gun laws. Maybe someone else on the list can speak to this.

  30. jimt


    Thanks for the info on gun suicides. The results do surprise me; I guess it can be inferred that a high percentage of suicides are impulsive.

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