Unarmed Teen's Murder Still Fuels Gun Debate

Feb 26, 2013
Originally published on February 26, 2013 9:44 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One year ago today, police in Sanford, Florida received a fateful call to their non-emergency line. A man named George Zimmerman was calling to report someone he said was suspicious.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Before police cars arrived, Zimmerman got into a struggle with the person he was watching, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The struggle ended with Zimmerman fatally shooting the unarmed teenager. This event was one of a string of shootings that reignited the national debate about gun laws, in this case, a law called Stand Your Ground. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been a tough month for Sabrina Fulton. Earlier this month, she says she spent the morning crying on what would have been her son Trayvon's 18th birthday. Now, a few weeks later, it's the anniversary of the night her son was killed. Interviewed in NPR's TELL ME MORE, Fulton says even after a year of marches, heated rhetoric an calls for justice, she does not think this is about race.

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ALLEN: Since Trayvon Martin's death, there have many other shootings, including Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut. And the problem of random, gang-related gun violence was brought to the fore in the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago teenager who performed in President Obama's inauguration festivities. Sabrina Fulton says she's glad her son's death helped spark a national conversation about gun violence.

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ALLEN: Since the night of the shooting, Zimmerman has claimed he acted in self-defense, that he and Martin struggled for control of his gun before he pulled the trigger, killing the 17-year-old. Under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, a person who acts in self-defense is immune from prosecution. Because of that law, police and prosecutors at first declined to charge Zimmerman.

After a public outcry, Florida's governor appointed a special prosecutor, and Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder. The case goes to trial in June, but an important hearing has been scheduled for April, one in which Zimmerman is expected to claim self-defense and ask the judge to dismiss the case. Mark O'Mara is George Zimmerman's attorney.

MARK O'MARA: The concept of self-defense is completely within the fabric of this case. It is the defense. Whether or not that is a separate hearing or whatever, we know that George Zimmerman is going to present a defense that says he acted in self-defense, and that there's a support for it within the forensics.

ALLEN: Throughout the investigation of Trayvon Martin's shooting and now the legal proceedings against Zimmerman, looming over the case has been the Stand Your Ground law. Passed eight years ago at the behest of the National Rifle Association, it says people who are confronted with violence have no duty to retreat, and they can use lethal force to defend themselves.

Since its passage here, similar laws have been adopted in more than 20 other states. Because of the shooting, Florida's governor helped appoint a special task force that examined the law and its consequences. After several months of hearings, the task force last week concluded the law is mostly fine as is. State Senator David Simmons was one of the law's authors and a member of the taskforce.

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ALLEN: The challenge for George Zimmerman will be to prove that he's that truly innocent victim. In Sanford this evening, some community leaders will be holding a vigil remembering Trayvon Martin, lighting their candles after 7:15 p.m., around the time he died. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.