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ALEC and the NRA: How Lobbying for Self-Defense Laws Might Let Trayvon’s Killer Go Unpunished

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Feriha Kaya attends a rally demanding justice for Trayvon Martin in Freedom Plaza on March 24 in Washington. Martin, an unarmed young black teen, was fatally shot by a volunteer neighborhood watchman.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Haraz N. Ghanbari

The media’s analysis of the Trayvon Martin case—in which a young black man’s clothing and appearance seemingly motivated a white and Hispanic neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, to pursue and kill him—has shifted from dealing with the contentious issue of race to the more seemingly concrete topic of the law.

Except in this case, nothing, not even the law, lacks opacity.

If it’s the botched police work and culture of racial profiling that initially protected Zimmerman from being arrested, it will be Florida’s shady and vague “Stand Your Ground” law that could possibly keep him off the hook—federal probe notwithstanding.

Florida’s law—and those like it in 25 other states—give citizens unchecked power to “defend” themselves without fear of prosecution, even if it means taking the life of another. Florida’s law states that an individual can kill if “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another,” but without being obliged to flee from danger first.

In the wake of Martin’s death, groups that craft and push sample legislation to lawmakers—specifically the National Rifle Association and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—have come under fire for their intense lobbying efforts in favor of Florida-like “Stand Your Ground” laws elsewhere. These laws can give gun-toting citizens more license to play cops and robbers with real people’s lives.

Despite the mounting public uproar over Martin’s death, the National Rifle Association has pushed its Floridian “Stand Your Ground” paradigm in at least five other state legislatures—Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and Nebraska, according to Think Progress.

ALEC, which also pushes Voter ID legislation, is backed by companies like Wal-Mart, Kraft, AT&T, UPS, ExxonMobil, and State Far. These companies have also received some pressure from a coalition of progressive outfits like Rebuild the Dream, United Republic, and the Center for Media and Democracy.

In an open letter and petition published by the Republic Report, the progressive coalition calls for corporations to sever all ties with the private council’s “reckless agenda” which they write “harms the health and safety of Americans.”

A year after Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense statute was passed in 2005, ALEC adopted a model bill that was provided to them by the NRA, a “longtime funder.”

ALEC and the NRA have been pushing the gun friendly bills since.

ALEC members and Republican authors of the law—former Sen. Durell Peaden and current state Rep. Dennis Baxley—defended the “Stand Your Ground” law in the wake of Martin’s death, saying the law had been misapplied by Sanford police, according to the Miami Herald.

Shifting the blame from the legislation to shoddy police work, Peaden said it’s Zimmerman and not the law that’s flawed.

“The guy lost his defense right then,” Peaden said. “When he said ‘I’m following him,’ he lost his defense.”

Though Peaden said that Zimmerman’s self-defense claim is moot because he followed Martin and there is nothing in the law that gives an individual the right to confront and kill someone, critics argue that it is exactly that sort of vagueness that allowed the statute to be “misapplied” in the first place.

Naima Ramos-Chapman is an associate editor at Campus Progress.

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