By Brendan Fischer on December 26, 2012

When George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February, Zimmerman -- who considered himself a neighborhood watchman -- almost certainly thought of himself as a "good guy."

In November, 45-year-old Michael David Dunn likely thought he was playing the role of the "good guy" when he confronted a vanload of teenagers for playing their music too loud, then fired nine shots into their vehicle after claiming he saw a shotgun barrel. 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was killed, and neither Jordan nor anyone else in the van had a gun.

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre in the organization's first news conference after the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. The NRA's solution to mass shootings is not fewer guns or even safer guns, but more guns -- as long as the "good guys" are packing, their reasoning goes, the "bad guys" can't do much damage.

But the notion of "good guys" and "bad guys" is a severe oversimplification in most incidents involving gun violence.

Many Americans -- and certainly the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Russell David -- would say that Zimmerman and Dunn were indeed the "bad guys," using excessive force in response to the imagined threat posed by unarmed teenagers.

Stand Your Ground, or Kill at Will?

LaPierre's statements came in the context of the Newtown school shooting but the NRA has long supported the notion that gun violence is cured by more guns. The NRA has not only advanced the morally reductive "good guy vs bad guy" portrayal of gun violence as a rhetorical tool, but has gone further, successfully lobbying for legal protections for self-styled "good guys" who shoot to kill.

As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, the NRA-conceived (and American Legislative Exchange Council-ratified) "Stand Your Ground" laws give license for people to engage in vigilantism without liability.

Police initially cited Florida's Stand Your Ground law to avoid arresting Zimmerman, and only took him into custody after weeks of public outcry. Dunn reportedly will invoke the Stand Your Ground law at trial.

The NRA's Stand Your Ground bill goes far beyond the traditional right to claim self defense by establishing a legal presumption of criminal and civil immunity when a shooter claims they were threatened, whether in the home or in a public place. As Madison police officer Brian Austin explained earlier this year, legal protections already existed for those who used force to protect their home, but what the Stand Your Ground law does "is essentially remove the requirement that a person actually evaluate whether the person they shoot is presenting an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm." The law creates an environment where armed individuals are emboldened to use violence to solve disputes and respond to perceived threats, with killers protected from prosecution regardless of whether the victim actually posed a danger.

In the case of both Zimmerman and Dunn, their perception of the "threat" posed by Trayvon Martin and Jordan Russell David, respectively, may have been motivated by the fact that their victims were black; as such, the ALEC/NRA legislation can put the decision to take a life in the hands of a person whose fears are motivated by racial bias or other irrational prejudice.

As CMD reported, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer helped draft the Florida Stand Your Ground law in 2005, and reportedly "stared down legislators as they voted," then stood behind Governor Jeb Bush as he signed the bill into law. Just a few months later, Hammer presented the bill to ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force, and the NRA boasted that "[h]er talk was well-received." The corporations and state legislators on the Task Force -- which was chaired by Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer of long guns -- voted unanimously to approve the bill as an ALEC model. Since becoming an ALEC model it has become law in dozens of other states, and the number of homicides classified as "justifiable" has dramatically increased.

WI Gov. Scott Walker signs concealed carry legislation with the NRA's Wayne LaPierre looking on (via Blue Cheddar blog)Through ALEC, the NRA has also pushed a variety of bills to expand access to and use of firearms, such as concealed carry legislation. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed versions of the concealed carry and "Stand Your Ground" bills into law in 2011, after which the NRA gave him an award and spent $815,000 on his 2012 recall election.

NRA Asserts: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Evidence suggests Trayvon Martin and Jordan Russell David posed no threat to their killers, but even when a real "bad guy" does exist, humans are imperfect and have imprecise judgment, particularly in the chaos surrounding mass shootings. The massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, for example, was at a military base with people trained to use firearms and have fast response times, but that did not stop a single gunman from killing 13 and wounding 29.

And even the best-intentioned "good guys" often cannot determine who poses a genuine threat in a chaotic situation, which is one of the reasons why law enforcement overwhelmingly opposes NRA-backed efforts to arm more civilians.

When Jared Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others (six of whom died) in Tucson, there was one "good guy" in the area, Joe Zamudio, who was carrying a concealed handgun. As he told Fox & Friends: "I came around the corner [and] I saw a man holding a gun. And that's who I at first thought was the shooter."

But when Zamudio arrived, Loughner had already been subdued by unarmed civilians when he paused to reload -- a powerful argument for banning high-capacity clips -- and the person holding the gun at the time was one of the heroic citizens who had wrestled it away from Loughner. And Zamudio almost shot him.

"I was very lucky. Honestly, it was a matter of seconds. Two, maybe three seconds between when I came through the doorway and when I was laying on top of the real shooter, holding him down. So, I mean, in that short amount of time I made a lot of really big decisions really fast. ... I was really lucky."

Not everyone in that situation would have Zamudio's good sense and judgment.

But an increasingly-armed society means more business for the gun manufacturers that fund the NRA -- and who cares if a person has good judgment, or is really a "good guy" at all, as long as they continue buying guns and buying into the NRA's fear-mongering.

Brendan Fischer

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

Comments

its like this, In the American prison system they'll melt down toothbrushes and come at you in gang numbers and with ex.treme vilonce shank you to death. Violence will always be here, thats a fact, when you arm the people there will be violence yet it will go down unless you live in a city were the pill a size of a match head has more value than life or the dollar. Yet in the areas that the strong preys upon the weak, as far as mugging or rape or burglaries goes when that area is armmed. the violence and Crimes will go way down.
In a country that has people weighing in at 6 foot to 250 on the average and their prey is the old or the weak you need a bleeping gun!!!

The two men that you reference were not "good guys". That's the difference. They were not trained security officials. They were crazy old men. Do you really think the outcome would have been any different if he had brought a knife or baseball bat over to that van? There are too many variables that could maybe stop violence. Thing is, it is literally impossible to stop all of the variables. Harp on the nra all you want. It's pure ignorance to think that a armed a police officer at that school in Newtown wouldn't have made a difference. Take Away his mom's guns and he just builds a bomb. Or waits 2 years till he can "print" his own gun on a 3d printer. Criminals don't follow the law!! For proof, just look at Chicago and LA... Two of the strictest gun laws in the country hard at work there. Lol. Look at facts people. Use your brain.

So, it all boils down to putting the word "good" in front of something to consider it sufficient to pass a law on. You sir, are among those who muddy genuine discussion with your sarcasm instead of helping flesh out a respectful discussion with the common purpose of finding resolution to a deadly social problem. Why bother?

You say, "Criminals don't follow the law!!"

NONE of the shooters in any of the mass shootings we've had over the years had CRIMINAL records.

They weren't criminals, they were mentally and/or emotionally unstable. And what they DID have was access to firearms capable of MASS MURDER.

If the head is split, ACQUIT!
.
If the nose is broke, MURDER 2 is a JOKE!
.
Better a wanna be cop than a wanna be gang banger.
.
By now, we all know the media prefers wanna be cops to wanna be gang bangers.

Trayvon Martin didn't "wanna" do anything but get home safely with his snacks. Against the police dispatcher's clear instructions, George Zimmerman pursued him and picked a fight with him. That makes Zimmerman the aggressor.

With neighborhood watch "volunteers" like Zimmerman, we don't need gang bangers.

sure, we have guns and the right to have them in the US. but, why do we *need* assault rifles, large amounts of ammo and body armor? this isn't for hunting, it's for wacky "end times" conspiracy nutters.

I don't want the only guns to be in the hands of government, either; but stockpiling insanely powerful weapons and wishing for a violent "end times" can only lead to wish fulfillment. maybe gun culture could slow down a tad? you think? they can keep their guns, but let's figure out a way to slow it down and calm down. fanaticism is never really healthy.

then, after the gun people take a step back, maybe we can start looking at the other causes of these violent outbreaks? the reasons for Sandy Hook and other mass shootings are more to do with our selfish, hopeless, overly entitled culture of nothingness; which leaves people burnt out on the inside. we would rather shop than talk to our neighbor. we would rather watch tv than respectfully discuss social systems with our neighbor. after we've bought a ton of worthless products and watched hours upon hours of pointless television, and endless hours staring at our "smart phones". we are now unable to function as human beings. this *might* have something to do with it?

So, Wayne LaPierre thinks that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

If I hadn't heard him say it I wouldn't have believed it.
It sounded like a soundbyte from an old western movie.

The N.R.A. won't be happy ontill it has a gun(s) in the hands of every man woman and child in America.

This is not about more guns curing the problem. It's about generating profits for the arms industry.

How come environmentalists aren't calling for more cars to cure pollution?

NRA

No, the NRA won't be happy with EVERY man, woman, and child being forced to carry a gun, just with those who want to and can legally qualify, no felons, no druggies, no mentally disturbed, able to carry. As it stands now, in many places, a man who works late at night, usually carries a large amount of cash on him when he leaves work, and works in an area known for trouble is NOT allowed to even own a gun, let alone carry one. He can hire an armed guard to escort him from his business to his car, or possibly to drive him from his business to his bank, but he himself is not allowed to be armed. In some of these areas, the only way to have an armed guard is to call the police station an hour or so before you are ready to leave, then HOPE they have someone free to escort you to your car. NO protection as you either drive home or to the night depository, and no guards at the bank, either. Yet two thirds of the crooks in this same town have guns and feel no compunction when it comes to using them.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/florida-police-warn-public-against-taking-law-into,27832/