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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee