How NRA lobbied for 'Stand Your Ground' law that let Trayvon Martin killer George Zimmerman free

‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation provides a defence that is  difficult to overcome

Los Angeles

Now that George Zimmerman has been cleared of all charges in the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, he intends to reclaim the gun he used to shoot dead the unarmed 17-year-old.

According to his lawyer, Mark O’Mara, Mr Zimmerman needs a firearm to protect himself now “even more” than before. Speaking to ABC News on Sunday, O’Mara said Mr Zimmerman, 29, “feels, truly in his heart, that if he did not have that weapon [on the night of the shooting] he might not be here”.

At the heart of the debate surrounding the case was Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground law, which allowed Mr Zimmerman not simply to carry that gun and use it, but to escape being charged until six weeks after the killing – and only then due to a public outcry.

The law, which supposedly protects citizens who kill in self-defence, was created not at the behest of concerned Florida citizens, but by the gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful right-wing policy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and a handful of pliant politicians. Since it was introduced in Florida in 2005, it has spread to 24 more US states.

Professor Robert Spitzer, a political scientist and author of several books on the NRA, says: “The real culprit in the Trayvon Martin case was not Zimmerman but Stand Your Ground. It’s why the police did not investigate aggressively, it’s why it took six weeks to bring charges against Zimmerman, and it’s why his self-defence claim was extremely difficult to overcome. Stand Your Ground makes not only prosecution, but even mere investigation, very difficult.”

The original Stand Your Ground legislation was crafted by state lawmakers who stuck closely to guidelines set by Marion Hammer, a Florida-based former president of the NRA. After it was signed into law by the then Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, in April 2005, the NRA’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, described it as the “first step of a multi-state strategy”. Its passage was smoothed by ALEC, a conservative network whose backers include the NRA, Walmart and organisations linked to the right-wing billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch.

Stand Your Ground offers immunity not only to homeowners, but to people who open fire in public places, and those pleading self-defence need not retreat from anyone they perceive as a threat before shooting. As in the Trayvon Martin case, the burden is on police and prosecutors to prove that a self-defence claim is false.

Steve Jansen is the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, who says his members nationwide encounter Stand Your Ground issues daily. “If a police officer or someone in the military is engaged in a shooting, they go through a process to ensure that shooting was justified,” he says. “Yet we are granting both criminal and civil immunity to citizens who don’t have nearly the same levels of firearms training as police officers.”

Within six years of the law’s introduction, the number of so-called “justifiable homicides” in Florida had increased threefold. But the law offered no protection to Marissa Alexander, 31, from Jacksonville, who last year was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot to ward off her abusive husband. No one was injured in the incident. Alexander, who is black, cited Stand Your Ground to no avail.

The spread and persistence of the law may be a major political success for the NRA, but it has resulted in some blowback for its supporters. Not long after the Trayvon Martin shooting, several major corporate sponsors withdrew their backing from ALEC, including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kraft. In April 2012, the group finally scrapped the task force responsible for pushing Stand Your Ground.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower