Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the agreement with the sydicator means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)


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Whether George Zimmerman is ever punished for gunning down Trayvon Martin, those responsible for “Stand Your Ground” laws deserve condemnation. But even more worthy of scorn are those who are to blame for allowing nearly everyone to carry handguns. The list includes craven politicians who bow and scrape to the lobbyist mercenaries at the NRA and other gun “rights” organizations, who exploit the country’s insane shoot-’em-up mentality.

Panic-stricken or simply vicious people have been granted a license to kill. Twenty-three states have “Stand Your Ground” laws on the books, extending the so-called Castle Doctrine beyond the home.

No longer does someone outdoors in our wild frontier need to try to escape danger to justify a self-defense claim. Florida permits “deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.”

Who decides whether the presence of a young black stranger really caused Zimmerman to “reasonably” conclude he was threatened by a young man wearing a hoodie — as millions do, by the way?

Geraldo Rivera is taking a lot of flak for maintaining “if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty Neighborhood Watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.” Ridiculous though Geraldo’s analysis might be, the hoodie has now become the symbol an outraged reaction. Whatever put him over the edge, Zimmerman was able to end someone’s precious life simply by pulling the trigger.

The police did not make an arrest. They claim they are stymied by a law that requires mind-reading. But Sanford, Fla., is a city with a history of ugly racism. In fact, given the nation’s history of ugly racism, it’s heartening to see how the revulsion against what happened in Sanford is causing an outpouring of anger against the dangers of simply being black.

The politicians on the right are insisting that “Stand Your Ground” doesn’t apply in this case; even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed the legislation, is scrambling to argue it doesn’t apply in this particular set of circumstances: “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.” At least conservatives are expressing sympathy for the family, although Newt Gingrich couldn’t resist taking umbrage at President Barack Obama’s reaction: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Gingrich deemed that “divisive.”

The sight of the parents demanding justice, while struggling with the senseless loss of their child, has struck a chord.

Officials have been frightened into action. At the state level, the tensions have forced them to convene a grand jury and investigate further. The feds are investigating.

(By the way, since the protests have been led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, I should point out that I am a frequent guest on his MSNBC program. We have had no conversations about this matter, direct or indirect, public or private.)

It also should be pointed out that Zimmerman is in hiding, but his lawyer insists he was under attack during the confrontation. It is fair to worry that the protests don’t rattle law enforcement into taking action that violates his rights. But the most basic right of all is being alive and not at the mercy of someone who is not only armed but incapable of accepting the enormous responsibility he carries along with his weapon.

It’s easy to imagine in any of the states where they have passed this malignant law, two people, both packing, will decide they have “reasonable” fear, and blaze away. Maybe instead of “Stand your Ground,” the measures should be called the “OK Corral” laws.

We can thank the gutless politicians and the cynical lobbyists, truly hired guns who thrive by pandering to lethal fear. We can thank ourselves for the insane desire to carry a gun and be accurately described as armed and dangerous.

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