George Zimmerman is Free, So Let's Talk About Gun Violence

The acquittal of George Zimmerman of murder charges demonstrates only that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proof, and the jury responded accordingly. It does not mean Zimmerman was "innocent." But instead of the legal post-mortems and the calls for federal prosecution of Zimmerman, what we should be talking about is how to prevent future George Zimmermans from being able go out and start — and violently finish — trouble. While some have been (perversely) dredging up 17-year-old victim Trayvon Martin's apparent experimentation with drug use, it is Zimmerman's past that should be discussed in the context of this discussion. Zimmerman, unlike Martin, is a grown man with a history of domestic violence and assault, among other things. The fact that he was able to get a gun and carry it around in public is proof that America's lax gun laws are still the issue. There should be much higher standards used to evaluate people who want to legally walk the streets with a loaded, concealed weapon.

In 2005, Zimmerman was arrested after he shoved a police officer in a bar. He was charged with "battery of a law enforcement officer" as well as "resisting an officer with violence," both of which are felonies. These charges were later dropped after Zimmerman agreed to enter an alcohol education program. In that same year, his fiancé filed a restraining order against him, alleging that he pushed and slapped her in the face. Both parties admitted that it was not the first episode of violence between them. Reports have also surfaced that Zimmerman was fired from a security guard job for using excessive force on a woman at a party, also in 2005.

None of this was apparently enough to prevent Zimmerman from obtaining a concealed weapon permit. According to Florida's Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) law, applicants for a license may be ineligible if they have had multiple arrests — not convictions — involving controlled substances. And yet, arrests for violence or a history of domestic abuse are not disqualifiers: only convictions count. Clearly, the tendency toward violence is more germane to whether a person should be allowed to walk around with a concealed weapon than whether or not they've smoked a joint. If applicants can be excluded for multiple drug arrests, then they should certainly be excluded for multiple arrests related to violence, not just convictions.  

Perhaps an added requirement should be employee references. Personal references, colored by friendship, are not helpful in weeding out unfit applicants, but an employer is more likely to offer an objective assessment of character. Also, an interview with a licensing representative would help flesh out an applicant's background; in some Pennsylvania counties, CCW applications must be submitted in person, and some applicants are interviewed on the spot. One other suggestion is to prohibit the carrying of weapons on a neighborhood watch, as the temptation to take the law into one's own hands is too great. States with CCW laws already restrict where weapons may be carried; schools, government buildings, and taverns are example of where permit holders may not bring their guns.

These are just a few ideas to start with. Surely, lawmakers can come up with more, if the public demands it. It will take concrete action from lawmakers, not just hand-wringing, to keep guns out of the hands of violent individuals. But the public must demand it.