Glenn Beck's website, The Blaze, would like you to know that Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, might have been an arsonist. Or a kidnapper. Or even a murderer.
In an article attacking MSNBC's Al Sharpton for "exploiting" the "racial controversy" surrounding Martin's death, The Blaze editor Mytheos Holt writes that "we're also learning more about Trayvon Martin. According to reporters he had been suspended from school." Martin's English teacher said that he had been suspended for "tardiness," but Holt says he has "doubts" and listed every single offense that could have resulted in Martin being suspended from school for 10 days -- to include arson, kidnapping, and murder:
Or possibly even of the following, each of which carries a minimum suspension of ten days:
• Aggravated assault
• Aggravated battery against a non-staff member
• Armed robbery
• Assault/Threat against M-DCPS employees or persons conducting official business
• Battery or Aggravated battery against M-DCPS employees or persons conducting official business*
• Making a false report/threat against the school*
• Sexual battery
• Possession, use, sale, or distribution of firearms, explosives, destructive devices, and other weapons.
But whatever the reason, it's a case that you'll probably be hearing more about in the future.
This is a not-too-subtle implication that Martin might have had it coming. After all, he could have been a kidnapping arsonist. Or a murdering armed robber.
The legislation apparently preventing the successful prosecution of Trayvon Martin's killer was reportedly adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as model legislation that the shadowy group has spent years promoting across the country with the help of their allies in the National Rifle Association.
Formed in 1973 by conservative activists including Paul Weyrich and state legislators like then-Illinois State Rep. Henry Hyde, ALEC has earned infamy throughout the progressive movement for its ability to promote model legislation favorable to its corporate funders through statehouses across the country.
Legal experts have noted that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law may prevent George Zimmerman from ever being successfully prosecuted for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman has claimed that he acted in self-defense, and court precedent indicates that the State has the heavy burden of disproving this in order to win a conviction.
Florida's statute on the use of force in self-defense is virtually identical to Section 1 of ALEC's Castle Doctrine Act model legislation as posted on the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). According to CMD, the model bill was adopted by ALEC's Civil Justice Task in August 2005 -- just a few short months after it passed the Florida legislature -- and approved by its board of directors the following month.
Since the 2005 passage of Florida's law, similar statutes have been passed in 16 other states. This was no accident. In a 2008 interview with NRA News, ALEC resident fellow Michael Hough explained how his organization works with the NRA to push similar legislation through its network of conservative state legislators:
HOUGH: We are a very pro-Second Amendment organization. In fact, last session, I'll get off-topic here real quick, but some of the things that we were pushing in states was the Castle Doctrine. We worked with the NRA on that, that's one of our model bills that we have states introduce.
The National Rifle Association's effort to pass Florida-style "Stand Your Ground" laws in other states has continued unabated in the wake of the February 26 death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who was confronted, shot, and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Since Martin's tragic death, media outlets have noted the role of the state's laws in providing Zimmerman with a legal self-defense claim that may prevent him from ever being successfully prosecuted. According to Mother Jones, Florida courts have found that under that statute, a "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable" while "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense."
16 states have reportedly passed similar legislation since Florida's 2005 adoption of the statute, often with the strong support of the NRA. This is no coincidence; the NRA has been affiliated for years with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has pushed model legislation expanding when it is legally permissible to use deadly force through its network of conservative state legislators.
The controversial circumstances of Martin's death have not slowed the NRA's effort to push for the passage of such laws: The organization's lobbying arm spent the weeks following his death promoting similar statutes in Iowa, Alaska, and Minnesota.
- On March 16, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) criticized the Judiciary Committee chairman of Iowa's state Senate for failing to hold hearings on "NRA-initiated HF 2215, the Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine Enhancement." According to NRA-ILA, the bill would "remove a person's 'duty to retreat' from an attacker, allowing law-abiding citizens to stand their ground and protect themselves or their family anywhere they are lawfully present." The group urged supporters to contact state Senators and tell them to support the bill. NRA-ILA previously told supporters to contact Democratic members of the Iowa House after they "left the Capitol building in an attempt to block consideration of these pro-gun bills" on February 29.
- On March 14, NRA-ILA urged Alaskan supporters to contact their state Senators and tell them to support House Bill 80, which it termed "important self-defense legislation that would provide that a law-abiding person, who is justified in using deadly force in self-defense, has 'no duty-to-retreat' from an attack if the person is in any place that that person has a legal right to be." NRA-ILA also promoted the bill on March 5, March 8, and February 29.
- On March 5, NRA-ILA executive director Chris W. Cox criticized Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton for vetoing House File 1467, which Cox said "would have removed the duty to retreat for crime victims currently mandated under Minnesota state law and precluded victims from facing prosecution for lawfully defending their lives." NRA-ILA also urged supporters to contact Dayton and urge him not to veto the bill on March 1 and February 29.
The NRA has referred to Florida's statute as "good law, casting a common-sense light onto the debate over the right of self-defense." The organization is unlikely to be satisfied until that "common-sense light" has been spread across the country, regardless of what tragedies occur in the meantime.
"We saw a parade of hypotheticals by those who opposed this... What's important is the message it sends, and that's, 'don't attack me.'" - National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, comment to The Tallahassee Democrat, 5/12/2005
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who confronted, shot, and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has not been arrested or charged with any crime after pleading self-defense. While critics have pointed out that this claim is dubious given that Zimmerman was both much larger that Martin and armed, legal experts say that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law could prevent him from ever being successfully prosecuted.
McClatchy Newspapers reports that "legal experts say Zimmerman, if arrested, would probably be charged with manslaughter and not murder -- and would have a strong defense under Florida's law, with a judge needing to decide first whether he is immune from prosecution." As Mother Jones points out, Florida courts have found that under that statute, "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable" while "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense."
While the NRA's Hammer scoffed at the "parade of hypotheticals" cited by those who opposed Florida's 2005 passage of the law, the concerns of those prosecutors who raised alarm at the statute both at the time and since now seem prophetic.
In a 2005 interview with UPI, former prosecutor and Democratic state representative Dan Gelber warned of the bill, which he voted against:
"Two people in an altercation, that happens every day. Someone thinks you're looking at their wife the wrong way, somebody spills coffee on you, someone bumps into you, someone cuts you off, then all of a sudden they're in a fight... Do we tell those people that they're supposed to walk away or do we tell them that you're supposed to stand your ground and fight to the death?"
The case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teenager who was tragically gunned down near his home in the Florida suburbs late last month, has begun to receive national media attention. The potential impact of Florida's gun laws has become a front-and-center issue at some outlets as the events in question receive scrutiny.
On the evening of February 26, Martin was returning from the local 7-Eleven to the apartment of his father's fiancé with a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man legally carrying a concealed handgun who acted as a neighborhood watch volunteer in that gated community. According to recordings released late Friday, Zimmerman called 911 from his car to report Martin as a "real suspicious guy" and "a black male" with "his hand in his waistband," then left the car to pursue the youth against the dispatcher's recommendation.
A struggle then occurred which ended with Zimmerman shooting and killing Martin. Zimmerman has not been arrested by police after stating that he had acted in self-defense. This has resulted in a public outcry and demands for the Department of Justice to intervene.
Media outlets have noted that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law may have effectively immunized Zimmerman from prosecution. As Mother Jones points out, Florida courts have found that under that statute, "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable" while "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense." This has led to a legal situation wherein it is possible for someone to kill a member of a rival gang in a shootout, claim they were acting in self-defense, and avoid prosecution.
On Friday, The New York Times noted the role that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law may play in the case:
Florida's self-defense law, known as Stand Your Ground, grants immunity to people who act to protect themselves if they have a reasonable fear they will be killed or seriously injured.
"Stand Your Ground is a law that has really created a Wild West type environment in Florida," said Brian Tannebaum, a criminal defense lawyer in Florida. "It allows people to kill people outside of their homes, if they are in reasonable fear for their lives. It's a very low standard."