Unclear facts of Florida shooting don’t deter political opportunists

So protests over the Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin are coming to Colorado, is anyone really surprised? It would be nice to see unfortunate stories that involve a local issue not blown up into national crusades before anyone really even knows the facts, but in today’s environment that’s just not going to happen.

An organization called Colorado Progressive Coalition is organizing a demonstration on Monday in Denver where members will also call upon the federal Department of Justice to investigate the Denver Police Department.

The connection between the Denver Police Department, Colorado and the shooting of a young black teenager by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida seems tenuous. However, as columnist George Will has pointed out, we live with those unwilling to let a tragedy pass by without nailing a political agenda to it.

This is just the beginning of attempts by some to connect this event with guns, race and even self-defense statutes in the criminal law. President Barack Obama has even managed to snap the racial component further on the national stage by making the comment that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” 

This is one of the more bizarre and obliquely inflammatory statements made by an American president.  When I see photographs of the president and the young man, I frankly don’t see much resemblance, which means the president seems to be referring to their partially shared ethnicity. So much for the president encouraging cooler heads to prevail in an election year.

While it’s not certain how the investigation into the shooting will be resolved, it’s certain to have consequences, as politicians and community organizers use the issue to batter at things they don’t like.  For instance, this week I noticed that Colorado House Bill 1048 barely made it out of a house committee by a 7–6 vote. This legislation is attempting to eliminate the Colorado Bureau of Investigations system background check for the purchase of firearms and utilize only the National Instant Criminal Background check system. The two are duplicative and by eliminating one of them, it would save the state of Colorado $1.8 million. But since this would cut back the bureaucracy involved in owning a firearm and an individual with a firearm and a license to carry one is at the heart of the Martin case, I’m fairly certain it will come up.

Neighborhood watch groups in Colorado are already on guard for criticism, even though every guideline for these programs indicates that participants should be first and foremost excellent witnesses, not attempt to apprehend anyone and certainly not employ deadly force as part of a misguided attempt at apprehension.

This case has lead to a call by the likes of New York Sen. Charles Schumer for a Justice Department investigation into state self-defense statutes, known as “stand your ground” laws. These generally signify that an individual is not required to retreat from a situation where unlawful force is employed against him that could result in serious bodily injury or death, prior to using deadly force in defense of his person. 

This eliminates the requirement which some states have that an individual “retreat to the wall” to avoid serious injury prior to using deadly force.

The facts of the Florida case have no connection to Colorado’s defense-of-premises statutes, but some people apparently think there is a link and seem to believe self-defense statutes that don’t require retreat and a near-death experience prior to self defense lead to unwarranted killings.

What seems to be the issue in Florida is whether or not George Zimmerman, who was not in a residence, was being assaulted in such a way that a reasonable person would believe he or she was in danger of serious bodily injury or death and therefore needed to use deadly force.

Under Florida law, and similar laws in Colorado, if Zimmerman was the aggressor in the contact, he then would have to retreat prior to using deadly force. He should have clearly abandoned any attempt to use unlawful force against Martin, who would have to use significant force against Zimmerman before Zimmerman could use deadly force in response.

We don’t yet know what happened but that isn’t stopping many from using this tragedy to pound their political agendas.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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