Maslyn: Presence of firearm in Martin case woefully unaddressed

Since the Feb. 26 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, racial backlash concerning the incident has consumed the media. Many suggest that Martin’s death stems from an inherent suspicion in this country of young black males. Others disagree with this assessment, citing that Zimmerman is Hispanic and therefore a minority himself.

While I do not deny the significant role race played in Martin’s death, a key element of the case has seemingly gone unnoticed – 28-year-old George Zimmerman, Martin’s shooter, was unnecessarily armed with a 9 mm pistol.

Regardless of Martin’s race and Zimmerman’s intentions, why was a 9 mm handgun in play? Is this a necessary weapon to carry when on neighborhood watch? Zimmerman apparently thought so, but I beg to differ.

The instant a gun is introduced in any sort of altercation – violent or otherwise – the parties involved are invited to act with increased aggression, citing self-defense as their reasoning. Zimmerman’s defense, based on the Stand Your Ground law in Florida, follows this pattern.

According to the law, an individual without a weapon may react violently even if a gun isn’t directly pointed at them. A mere glimpse at a hidden gun can leave one party feeling defenseless and as though the threat on their life has been raised.

Further, personally owned guns are notoriously turned against the very individual who owns them. According to a study done by Director of RAND Health Arthur Kellermann, a member of a household where a gun is present is almost three times as likely to be a victim of homicide compared to gun-free households. The question of malicious intent thus becomes futile because both parties are apparently operating under the pretenses of self-defense. In short, the presence of such a weapon elevates a dispute past the point of no return.

It is for these reasons that a gun has no place in a neighborhood watch program. Intent aside, my feeling of safety would greatly decline if I knew that an armed neighbor was patrolling the streets of my neighborhood.

Zimmerman’s use of a gun as a means of protection becomes all the more trivial with the knowledge that he was in close vicinity to his vehicle. Was this vehicle a too-passive form of defense in the event of conflict? Zimmerman apparently thought so, but again I disagree.

It’s also safe to say that the added precaution of a fellow volunteer would have been more effective than the defense provided by a weapon. Zimmerman clearly felt that his volunteer position put him at enough risk to warrant carrying a gun. So how could he possibly be in a secure-enough position to be on duty alone?

The contradicting accounts of what actually happened on the night that Trayvon Martin was shot have left this case muddled and unclear. Police reports and witnesses from the Florida neighborhood, Martin’s girlfriend and Zimmerman’s father all cling to varying portrayals of the same story. What remains as the trigger of these events, however, is the faulty decision George Zimmerman made to carry a gun that February night.