Posted by Brendan Fischer on April 09, 2012

The executive director of Gun Owners of America Larry Pratt has hit the airwaves with a rare defense of George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old man who shot and killed unarmed African-American high school student Trayvon Martin. Prosecutors and law enforcement in Florida have cited Florida's "stand your ground" (aka "shoot first") law, which was conceived by the National Rifle Association and ratified by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Pratt is a former ALEC board member and notorious for racially-charged rhetoric.

Pratt's Ties to ALEC

Pratt's relationship with ALEC began in 1978, when ALEC began an effort to oppose a constitutional amendment giving the District of Columbia full voting rights in Congress. That debate began shortly after the District obtained some independence from congressional management through "home-rule," which allowed American citizens in DC to elect a mayor, but left them subject to taxation without representation in Congress. The debate over allowing DC residents to elect senators was tainted with racist objections due to the large population of African-Americans in DC, and the likelihood that the District would vote for Democrats if accorded representation in Congress.

To help promote its opposition to the amendment, ALEC forged an alliance with Pratt's Gun Owners of America. At the 1979 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference, ALEC and Pratt's Gun Owners of America announced a plan the two groups had developed to thwart ratification of the amendment, involving states sending formal resolutions of disapproval to the federal government. Pratt was clear about their interest in blocking the measure. "The amendment would bring in two senators who would probably be minority and would definitely be liberal on gun control," he said.

ALEC's relationship with Pratt and his Gun Owners of America apparently remained mutually beneficial.

Pratt was elected to the Virginia State Legislature in 1981 and soon took a leadership position in ALEC. He sat on ALEC's board even after he left the legislature, serving as its treasurer in at least 1983 and 1984 and 1985, and perhaps longer (the records from this period are incomplete beyond these specific documents).

Pratt's Gun Owners of America remained ALEC members for many years, into at least the 1990s.

Justifying Martin's Death

Fast forward to 2012. Pratt appeared on Cenk Uygur's Current TV show "The Young Turks" on March 23 to assert that Zimmerman was justified in killing Trayvon Martin as he returned from a trip to 7-11 with a pack of Skittles.

Pratt branded 17-year-old Martin as "an aggressor," based on the account of an alleged eyewitness who would only identify himself as "John," and described Martin as having knocked down his attacker and Zimmerman acting in self-defense. Pratt said:

"Trayvon Martin gave up his rights and shifted from being a victim to being an aggressor -- after he knocked Zimmerman down, [and] he did not run away from that situation."

Uygur replied: "Funny how the kid with no gun is the one who, in your mind, gave up all his rights. But Zimmerman, the ... stalker who called the police 49 times [in many cases] on black males, called this guy a coon, chased him down with a gun -- he has all the rights in the world." Uygur also noted that no other witnesses corroborated "John's" account.

Pratt's assertions seem to be part of a wider right-wing effort to claim the mainstream media has been inaccurately covering the Trayvon Martin shooting, and to attack the dead victim who cannot speak for himself.

But the law that is apparently keeping Zimmerman out of jail for killing the unarmed Trayvon Martin was conceived by the NRA and adopted by ALEC as a "model" bill in 2005. As noted above, Pratt and his organization were affiliated with ALEC for almost two decades.

Pratt's Ties to White Supremacists

Pratt told the Washington Post that he bought his first gun in 1968 when "there were some racial difficulties" in Washington DC. "I heard on the radio that the police weren't sure they could control the rioters coming north on 16th Street, so I went out and bought a shotgun."

Pratt founded Gun Owners of America in 1975 with H.L. Richardson, a benefactor of the Religious Right. Described as "eight lanes to the right" of the National Rifle Association, GOA was one of the early "New Right" groups to focus their political activity on the state level, rather than just on national issues. The group became a major donor to state legislative races, and "put the fear of death into a lot of Democrats" when the group helped defeat several powerful Democratic incumbents in California in 1982. GOA's focus on the states meshed well with ALEC.

But Pratt and the GOA were involved in more than just state politics. In the early 1980s, Pratt and the Gun Owners of America were outspoken supporters of the white rulers in South Africa during apartheid, calling a press conference in 1984 to present "evidence" that allegedly tied Bishop Desmond Tutu to an effort to violently overthrow the white minority regime in the country. "Bishop Tutu's idea of Christianity, rather than one of bringing reconciliation of the divisions within South Africa is one that would welcome the extension of the atheist slave state from Russia to his own country," Pratt said. Bishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year.

At the time, Pratt was on the ALEC board.

Also in 1984, while he sat on the ALEC board, Pratt and GOA presented a plaque to notorious El Salvador death squad leader Robert D'Aubuisson in 1984 for his "continuing efforts for freedom in the face of communist aggression which is an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere." D'Aubuisson, known as "Blowtorch Bob" for his use of a blowtorch to torture political opponents, also was involved in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

In 1990 Pratt wrote a book titled "Armed People Victorious" based on his study of death squads in Guatemala and the Philippines, and advocated for similar "citizen defense patrols" in the United States. The idea reportedly caught on in 1992, when Pratt addressed a three-day meeting of neo-Nazis and Christian Adherents organized by white supremacist Pete Peters. He shared the stage with a former Ku Klux Klan leader and an Aryan Nation official.

Pratt's lengthy ties to white supremacists forced him to step down from his role as co-chairman of Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign, after his racist connections were publicized by the Center for Public Integrity and others.

Many ALEC Bills Disparately Impact People of Color

Given Pratt's history, ALEC may wish to further distance itself from the Gun Owners of America director. But bills more recently approved at the behest of the NRA or with the NRA in a leadership role on ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force have been shown to have a racially disparate impact.

CMD has reported on how the corporations and state legislators on the ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force in 2005 approved the NRA-sponsored "Castle Doctrine Act" as an ALEC model, which was then introduced in statehouses across the country (and has been cited to allow Trayvon Martin's killer to walk free). The ALEC model bill expands the common-law castle doctrine beyond the home to give criminal and civil immunity to a person who uses deadly force "anywhere they have a right to be," whenever they believe themselves to feel threatened.

As appears to have been the case with Trayvon Martin in Florida and Bo Morrison in Wisconsin, this opens the door for people who find young black men "threatening" to respond to that perceived threat with deadly force. Because the law goes beyond creating a mere defense against conviction (which already exists under long-standing American legal traditions), and instead establishes a presumption of innocence, in situations where there are few eyewitnesses other than the alleged killer and the person who is killed (as was the situation in the deaths of Martin and Morrison), the presumption of immunity can be very difficult to rebut.

As CMD has also noted, where the ALEC "Castle Doctrine Act" opens the door for racial bias to be protected under the criminal justice system, the ALEC model "Voter ID Act" may sanction racial prejudice in the electoral system. 34 states introduced bills containing elements of the ALEC Voter ID Act in 2011. A study from the Brennan Center found that approximately 5 million people do not have the state-issued IDs the ALEC model requires to cast a ballot, many of whom are people of color.

The racial impact of these bills and others approved by the ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force over the years are perhaps less surprising given ALEC's past history of working closely with GOA and Larry Pratt.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Comments

How dare this man try to justify the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Who is he to insinuate his opinion after-the-fact, based on an eyewitness whose version of events which no one else is able to corroborate! And for no other reason than to justify the existence of the organization he belongs to. Shameless. If this man had a teenage kid and the same happened to his kid, he'd be singing a different tune. This is a travesty, a total miscarriage of justice -the longer they delay arresting & prosecuting Zimmerman, the more idiotic commentary like this we'll have to listen to.

You neatly leave out the part where Bo Martin was inside the individuals home. That he was coming toward the homeowner, and that the homeowner had already had a verbal altercation with one of the party goers; had already called police about the party and feared retribution from the aforementioned party-goers. Why are castle doctrine and stand your ground laws racist? Why oh why would these laws have a disparate impact on minorities?

Your article is bunk on at least TWO critical issues.

1st- The statute offers NO PRESUMPTION of self-defense and only grants immunity from arrest or prosecution until mere probable cause exists that the force was unlawful. That simply reaffirms the 4th Amendment protection against arrest without probable cause.

Shooting someone is NOT an offense-- aggravated battery, attempted murder, manslaughter and murder are offenses and require evidence to support. The statute simply reminds officers and prosecutors of that fact.

Castle Doctrine's conditional, automatic presumption of justification and immunity only applies under specific factual conditions INSIDE dwelling structures and has nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin case.

2nd- Simply feeling threatened (by race or otherwise) is not a legal standard nor justification for deadly force. You are LYING by stating otherwise.

READ THE DAMNED THING (asterisks add for emphasis)
http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0700-0799/0776/0776.html :

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person **reasonably** believes that such conduct is **necessary** to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s **imminent** use of **unlawful force**. However, a person is justified in the use of **deadly force** and does not have a duty to retreat **if:**
(1) He or she **reasonably** believes that such force is **necessary** to prevent **imminent death** or **great bodily harm** to himself or herself or another or to prevent the **imminent** commission of a **forcible felony**; or
(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—

... [SS(1) and (2) only apply inside dwelling structures]...

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and **who is attacked** in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she **reasonably** believes it is **necessary** to do so to prevent **death or great bodily harm** to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a **forcible felony.**

776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—
(1) A person who uses force **as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031** is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force...

***(2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is **probable cause** that the force that was used was **unlawful**.***
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Words in statutes mean things-- words like "reasonable," "necessary," "imminent," and "great bodily harm." Those are not the words of a weak justification, nor an immoral one. They are legally objective standards rooted in 100's of years of precedent. Nothing about the justification for deadly force changed with "Stand Your Ground" other than not having to attempt to flee an illegal assault ONCE IT STARTS, something that's possible or probable Zimmerman wasn't even ABLE to do by the time he realized he was being assaulted.

And why should someone sit in jail without probable cause that they acted illegally?

A huge portion of the country has pre-judged a man's actions based on lies, distortions, and drastically incomplete or misrepresented information, despite common knowledge that the press is frequently imprecise, highly selective, and sensationalistic in what they report. To claim the press as a whole has been anything but corrupt and incompetent regarding the Trayvon Martin shooting would be in bad faith.

Why does it satisfy you to destroy a 2nd man when you can't possibly have enough or sufficiently reliable/complete information to know if he deserves your punishment, unless you think it's just that a man be brain damaged or killed for simply asking a question out of a founded concern for his neighbors? That IS possibly the only other option that existed at the time Zimmerman fired his pistol. To deny that is intellectually dishonest.

And quit with the race card. There's not a shred of credible, publicly known evidence left at this point that George Zimmerman acted out of hate or arbitrary suspicion of black people, and what evidence did exist was more manufactured than misinterpreted by the media.

No matter how one looks at this charade anyone that totes a gun is and always will have the intention to be a killer of any/all forms of life. Why else would you need a gun?
And why is the NRA and ALEC writing the laws, what happened with Congress that should be doingthe job.
Oh I forgot Congress is only there to make a profit from lunatical ideas of what the law should be.
Only in America do we have such madness.