EMBRACE GUN LAWS TO STAND GROUND AGAINST VIOLENT RACISM
August 9, 2013
George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford has sparked national debate on several issues, from racial violence and race relations to the “stand your ground” self-defense law and gun control. The killing of Jordan Davis, an innocent and highly regarded African-American child, by Michael Dunn in Jacksonville last year will undoubtedly raise similar questions while sweeping under the carpet the primary issue pundits on the right and left are afraid to discuss — namely, the pervasiveness of racist white attitudes and behavior.
Bombastic rants from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and CNN’s Don Lemon about black men and the immoral state of Black America in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict have diverted attention away from the elephant in the room: the failure to eradicate America’s heritage of ambivalent and violent racism against blacks through civil-rights litigation and legislation. The fact remains that it is not possible either to litigate or legislate character, or change the minds and hearts of people with a holistic yet misplaced belief in their superiority over others.
The central catalyst in Trayvon’s and Jordan’s slayings was race and age, not the Second Amendment, the “stand your ground law” or guns. While it would be ideal to live in an anti-gun society like Canada, our national tradition is more colorful. Guns are as close to the American consciousness as racism, baseball and apple pie. This is precisely why I oppose more gun control and repealing the “stand your ground” law with one caveat: Zimmerman-like aggressors and Dunn-like provocateurs should not be eligible to claim “stand your ground” self-defense, especially when unarmed children are slain.
The Goliath lives. White racism, prejudice, bias and privilege comprise the elephant that is routinely given amnesty in the court of public opinion and on the altar of political correctness. O’Reilly has said that 10 percent of whites comprise a racist fringe. Whatever the case may be, it is abundantly clear that the killings of Trayvon and Jordan are the byproduct of racist stereotypes underwritten by prejudice and fear of black male youth. That said, it is not racist to endorse or support the Second Amendment and “stand your ground” law; neither is it race-baiting to fight against and condemn racially motivated violence.
Ideally, the “stand your ground” law is supposed to be race-neutral. It is not. Racial disparities and bias saturate our criminal-justice system. For example, in states that have enacted “stand your ground” laws, white-on-black shootings are 11 times more likely to be deemed lawful self-defense than black-on-white shootings, according to a study from the Urban Institute.
In Florida, the “stand your ground” law is located in legislation and court rulings. It was signed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005, followed by 22 states. To eradicate it statutorily and in case law would require concerted action by the Legislature and courts, which is highly unrealistic.
Despite the aforementioned disparities in how the law has been applied, why not embrace it? Let’s think outside the box.
While the far right and National Rifle Association demonstrate no interest in safeguarding the rights and well-being of African-Americans, embracing Florida’s flexible gun laws may be the more prudent approach. Since the ongoing debate does not include national programs to remove guns from our streets or crack down on violent racists and biased aggressors, why shouldn’t African-Americans purchase firearms, obtain professional training and permits to conceal, and stand their ground when in fear of death or great bodily harm? Better yet, why shouldn’t African-Americans train their sons and daughters to partake in the rich American pastime of gun sportsmanship?
The truth is that across the racial spectrum, too many Americans own guns without knowing how to maintain or operate them effectively, and this irresponsible trend is magnified in the black community. Perhaps, African-Americans and the NRA need to work together to equalize the law and invest in African-American-centered shooting clubs and gun-awareness programs — so that in the spirit of equality and justice, they can stand their ground equally against the elephant.
Jeremy I. Levitt is a distinguished professor of international law at Florida A&M University College of Law.