Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Florida. Come for the sun, the seafood, the shootings

The fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager three weeks ago has become a matter of spreading national outrage, and if that causes the 21 states with so-called "stand your ground" laws to revisit or overturn them, the death of Trayvon Martin will not have been totally in vain.

These laws have expanded the traditional right of self-defense in the home to an open-ended use of deadly force wherever and whenever a person feels in imminent danger of death or injury. Typically, a self-defense justification required the person feeling threatened to escape or avoid the altercation.

The "stand your ground" laws automatically give the benefit of the doubt to the person claiming self-defense. And in states that have those laws, strongly backed by the National Rifle Association, if no charges are brought, the person is immune from lawsuits by the victim's family.

The instant case involves Martin, 17, returning to his father's girlfriend's house, armed only with a can of iced tea and a pack of Skittles. Neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, thought this "looked suspicious" and reported the presence of Martin on the sidewalks of Sanford, Fla., to the local police.

Apparently, Zimmerman found many things suspicious. It was his 46th such call to 911 in 14 months.

The police dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his car and stay put, that officers were on their way to investigate. An increasingly nervous Martin phoned his girlfriend to say a vehicle was following him.

At some stage, Zimmerman exited his vehicle and apparently confronted Martin, an exchange that was caught on tape with someone, presumably Martin, screaming for help. Zimmerman shot him anyway.

Even though Zimmerman was older, much larger, by as much as 100 pounds, and armed, the Sanford police bought his claim of self-defense, which, given the facts as so far known, is ludicrous.

The backlash over the failure of the police to conduct even a cursory investigation let alone make an arrest in a killing that seems dangerously close to an execution finally prodded the authorities into action. Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation, and Tuesday, the local state attorney announced he was convening a grand jury.

The best witness won't be testifying. He's dead, which is why "stand your ground" is attracting favorable attention among less savory elements of society. As The New York Times reports, "It is increasingly used by gang members fighting gang members, drug dealers battling drug dealers and people involved in road-rage encounters."

Florida says that before the law was enacted in 2005 there were about 13 justified killings a year. Since then, the yearly average has risen to 36. GOP Gov. Rick Scott says, with something less than boldness, "If there's something wrong with the law that's in place, I think it's important we address it."

Governor, how much more evidence do you need?