The acquittal of George Zimmerman is highlighting several vulnerabilities in the fabric of American society. With a justice system that varies wildly from state to state and gun laws that encourage vigilantism, the Trayvon Martin case should be a call for action on the federal level.
Laws that allow someone to shoot first, and ask questions later make it difficult to prosecute someone like Zimmerman because the only person who could have directly rejected his testimony is dead. But beyond the Stand Your Ground laws, the case also highlights how gun ownership can rapidly turn a bad situation into something far worse. Had Zimmerman not had a gun, the conflict between the two men would have likely been an ugly fistfight, not a fatality that has received international attention.
If the mass shootings in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., were unable to get Congress to act on gun control, it seems unlikely that Trayvon Martin's killing will motivate lawmakers to move ahead. Several prominent members of Congress, including Rep. Charles Rangel, are pursuing another avenue and are pressuring the Justice Department to look into the case. But beyond the particulars of Martin's death, a thorough look at Stand Your Ground laws is needed. If they are constitutional and legal, that's a statement about America that's every bit as disturbing and profound as one verdict in a Florida courtroom.