Category Archives: Ryno’s Ruminations

Why George Zimmerman is a Liability to Gun Rights

As the nation awaits the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, much of the media attention on the case centers around Zimmerman’s legal defense:  self-defense.  This leads to ridiculous re-enactments of the alleged fight between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, speculations about who was in better shape, who initiated physical contact, and who was winning the fight, and claims by both sides that it was one or the other who was heard on the phone crying for help.  In addition, gun rights supporters point to Florida’s “stand your ground” law, claiming that it gives Zimmerman the right to use deadly force instead of retreating.  I will demonstrate here that they should reconsider that position.

All of the aforementioned topics are really irrelevant in this case, nothing more than distractions from the central issue:  given that both men technically had a legal right to be where they were, the party at fault is whoever committed the first crime.  Let me explain.  Despite the fact that gun rights supporters and the talking heads on Fox News cite the “stand your ground” law as legal justification for Zimmerman’s actions, and gun-o-phobes on the other side point to the law as a problematic statute that empowers paranoid gun owners to take life indiscriminately, this case has nothing to do with “stand your ground” whatsoever.

For starters, Zimmerman waived his right to a “stand your ground” pretrial immunity hearing, at which a judge could have determined that Zimmerman had a right to “meet force with force,” preventing any criminal or civil trial from proceeding.  Zimmerman and his attorneys waived that defense, instead deciding to go to a criminal trial in which he would argue that he acted in self-defense, making the physical altercation the focus of the trial.  The attorney for the Martin family has commented that this was a move to keep Zimmerman off the witness stand.

If this wasn’t enough reason to get away from the “stand your ground” discussion, here are a few more.  The author the Florida statute has taken up its defense, arguing that according to Zimmerman’s account, he was pinned on the ground under Martin as they fought.  Thus, he was not able to flee, and even under Florida law prior to the introduction of “stand your ground,” would have had no duty to decide whether to flee or to stand his ground.

Before moving on to my final few points, let’s look at the Florida “stand your ground” law.  According to 20012 Florida State Statutes, Title XLVI, Chapter 776.013:  Justifiable Use of Force

Section 3:

“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

This section allows legally armed citizens to use deadly force against an attacker provided that three conditions are met:

1.)     The armed citizen is not engaged in unlawful activity

2.)    The armed citizen is attacked in a place where he has a legal right to be

3.)    The use of deadly force is allowed only if it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm

As a gun owner and concealed carry permit holder, I can attest that these requirements are the most important things one learns at the required concealed carry training course.  I believe two of these requirements were not met, and they will cost Zimmerman his freedom.

As I began this article, we assume that both men had a legal right to be where they were.  Certainly the only thing Trayvon Martin was guilty of was “walking while black” in an affluent neighborhood.  Neither was Martin engaged in unlawful activity.  However, Zimmerman may have been guilty of stalking, under Florida statute Title XLVI, Chapter 784.048:  Stalking.

“A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking…”

There is ample evidence that Zimmerman followed Martin against the instructions of a police dispatcher.  Furthermore, he demonstrates his willful and malicious intent on the 911 call, when he comments, “this guy looks like he’s up to no good,” and “these assholes always get away… fucking punks.”  Therefore, Zimmerman was engaged in unlawful activity when he followed Trayvon Martin, and it becomes completely irrelevant whether or not Martin threw the first punch.

Zimmerman injuries

Zimmerman certainly was injured during his fight with Trayvon Martin, but these injuries probably do not justify a reasonable fear that Zimmerman might have been killed.

Finally, even if Zimmerman was entitled to physically defend himself—assuming Martin initiated the physical contact—he probably was not justified in using deadly force.  The law cited above requires that a person be in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.  This is basically about proportionality of force:  if you are in a fistfight, you are not justified in shooting someone.  In other words, Zimmerman should have taken his ass-beating, and learned his lesson.  If he had, Trayvon Martin would still be alive, and George Zimmerman would not be about to lose his freedom.

Gun rights supporters would be wise to recognize Zimmerman for the overzealous vigilante that he is, or they risk losing all credibility in their message of self-defense.  Those who are already inclined toward distrust of gun owners and “stand your ground” statutes have found in Zimmerman the perfect example of someone who oversteps his own rights and hurts someone in the process.  The inevitable outcome of the gun lobby’s blind support of people like Zimmerman is the erosion of its credibility and the suspicion of common-sense laws like “stand your ground” and the “castle doctrine.”  These laws are obviously not the problem, but when they are misapplied in cases like this (by the media and the gun lobby), they replace the triggerman as the suspect.

In the end, Mr. Zimmerman may have set out only to defend his neighborhood, but it was not his to defend—nor was it ever under any threat—and instead of defending, he took what was not his to take:  the life of a young man named Trayvon Martin.

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Left-Lane Lurkers in Inferno

As Dante narrates his 14th century journey through the levels of hell in Inferno, he meets various sinners who suffer retributive punishments that correspond to their chief sin.  In the third circle, Dante encounters gluttons who are forced to lie in a vile slush, blind to their surroundings.  The allegorical punishment is intended to reveal the true nature of the sin—the selfishness and emptiness of sensuality.  The fourth circle punishes the greedy—those who hold one of two inappropriate attitudes toward material possessions:  on one hand, the avaricious, or hoarders, and on the other hand, the squanderers.  The two sides are forced to joust one another by pushing large weights with their chests:

They struck against each other; at that point,
each turned around and, wheeling back those weights,
cried out: Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?

Canto VII

Between the third and fourth circles are sinners that Dante neglects to identify:  left-lane lurkers.  We can only speculate, but the most likely reason this circle is not mentioned is the anachronism of vehicular sin in the 14th century, and the unfamiliarity of Dante and his poet-guide Virgil with modern automobiles and highway courtesy.  Regardless, the punishment endured by left-lane lurkers is as apposite as the punishments in the other circles.*  These sinners are fitted with a ball and chain—attached through their Achilles tendon—and compelled to crawl on all fours, dragging the weight for all of eternity, reminding them of the slow agony that they inflicted upon the drivers lined up behind them in the passing lane.  Like the gluttons in the third circle of hell, the left-lane lurkers are blind, reflecting their inconsideration and obliviousness to their surroundings.  This blindness causes the sinners to bump into each other frequently during their bumbling, sometimes causing “traffic jams.”

On a recent trip from North Carolina to Oklahoma to visit my parents (1,100 miles one way), I encountered left-lane hogs at least twice per hour.  At one point, I observed a woman drive more than thirty miles without leaving the left lane.  At times, she had more than ten vehicles stacked up behind her.  I had my cruise control set on 78 mph (in a 70 mph zone), which was slightly more than the flow of traffic.  She clearly was not using speed control, because she ranged from around 65 to 85 mph, depending on her level of attention to her phone and her passenger.  The infuriating thing was that she was happy to pass you on the left when she was doing 85, but when she slowed to 65, anyone passing her had to do so on the right.

As our highways become ever more congested, and common courtesy seems to be at an all-time low, some states have recently revisited their “keep right” laws.  While 30 states follow the Uniform Vehicle Code requiring “slower” traffic to keep right, enforcement is usually rare, since speeding tickets are better revenue producers.  “Impeding traffic” is an excuse more often used by officers to pull over a suspicious vehicle.  In addition, the verbiage “slower traffic” is vague, with many speed-limit drivers feeling no obligation to yield to speeders.  In fact, only five states and Puerto Rico stipulate that drivers must keep right only if traveling below the speed limit (for shame, Alaska, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Dakota!).  Otherwise, “slower” refers to the normal flow of traffic, despite the protests of proud lane-hogs who obstinately rationalize blocking traffic by self-righteously insisting that they are “keeping people from speeding.”

Ten other states, including my home state of Oklahoma, specify that drivers must keep right except to pass, turn left, or to allow traffic to merge.  New Jersey, already a “keep right except to pass” state, recently passed a bill through the Assembly that would increase the fine for offenders from a range of $50-$200 to a range of $100-$300.  The bill now awaits Governor Christie’s signature.  The Georgia legislature also considered a bill which would have clarified the state’s “keep right” policy this spring.  The new law would have specified that drivers should keep right except to pass, but would only apply if another car was trying to get by.  As far as I have been able to determine, the law was not passed by the deadline of the legislative session.  Florida lawmakers passed a bill in May making it illegal to drive less than 10 mph below the speed limit in the left lane.  The fine is $60.  Somehow I don’t think that will be a deterrent to all the retirees out on their leisurely Sunday drive.

Even though I was only in Germany for two weeks, I miss driving there.  We never saw a single disabled vehicle on the side of the road.  Never a chunk of tire in the road.  Not a single wreck, despite driving around 700 miles at speeds of up to 90 mph (as fast as our rented Renault Clio would go!), and being passed on the Autobahn by BMW’s doing 130 mph.  Yes, I miss driving in Germany, where if you pass someone, make it quick, and get back over to the right.  There is always someone going faster than you, and they are entitled to the passing lane.  If you are in the way, you will have a BMW or Mercedes molesting your tailpipe.

*Thanks to my sister Sarah, whose devious imagination helped me come up with an appropriate punishment for left-lane lurkers.

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The Scandal of the Ring(less)

My rule for wearing my wedding ring has always been ‘if I am wearing a tie or a suit jacket, or if it is date night, I will wear my ring.’  But today I went to work at my part-time gig at a local garden shop and country store wearing shorts, a polo, and my wedding ring.  And I feel that I compromised part of my values and succumbed to societal pressure.

There have been many reasons for my aversion to wearing my ring over the years, and none of them dubious.  For one thing, it doesn’t fit right.  My parents blessed me with abnormal hands:  oversized knuckles on undersized fingers.  For my ring to fit over the knuckle, it is so big that it leaves a gap when it gets to the base of the finger.  It slides, bumps, gets caught on things, and generally feels as comfortable as a rock in my shoe.

Another reason is the various jobs I have held over the last several years while I have been in school.  For a while I laid tile with my cousin.  You better believe I was not going anywhere near tile, thin-set, or grout with a ring, much less a wet-saw.  I like all my fingers right where they are.  Then I was an assistant tennis pro.  If there is the slightest ripple in my racquet grip I have to take it off and start over, so I certainly can’t play with an ill-fitting ring on my finger.  Besides, I have enough tan lines from tennis without adding one on my finger.

Above all, though, I have never enjoyed wearing a wedding ring because I have never understood the concept of jewelry.  It was never valued in my family, and I have never worn any sort of jewelry.  Neither one of my parents even owns a wedding ring (Mom used to, but lost it doing yard work and never saw the point of replacing it).  My mom and sister don’t even have their ears pierced.  There are just too many other things we would rather spend money on besides ancient hunks of metal and stone (of course, stamp it with a picture of a Roman emperor or a Greek inscription and you have my attention!).

Gold and other “precious” metals and stones, unlike other natural resources like oil, plants, and water, have limited or no practical use—and therefore no intrinsic value (see what I mean by intrinsic value as opposed to extrinsic or instrumental value).  That’s right, gold and diamonds are intrinsically worthless (and so is the American dollar, and all other forms of fiat currency. A Forbes contributor explains why all money is fiat money, regardless of whether it is backed my a commodity.).  Their value to human beings is completely culturally constructed, having been arbitrarily invested with instrumental and symbolic value by groups of people, who continually negotiate their value in comparison to the intrinsic value of goods, services, and ultimately of human labor.  As Jon Stewart comedically observes, and any investor will confirm, this negotiated value is subject to fluctuation.

As my wife and I approach our anniversary in early June, I have successfully abstained from participation in the societally mandated wedding ring cult for nearly five years.  I have only occasionally been asked about it, and those who know me generally have a pretty good idea of my (dis)inclinations without me explaining myself.  Those who don’t know me sometimes display slight curiosity or confusion when they find out I’m married but don’t wear a ring, but they generally let it go quite easily.

Now comes the scandal.  Within a week or two of starting my part-time job at a local garden shop in Clemmons, NC, the owner casually commented that some of her customers had been asking about “the new guy.”  She joked that I was going to have to get a ring so women would stop asking her for my phone number.  I have never thought of myself as high on the attractiveness scale, so I was slightly embarrassed but easily discounted the comment as a combination of jest and flattery.

A couple of days ago she said again, slightly less jokingly this time, “We’re really going to have to get you a ring, I’ve had several women whispering to me about the cute new guy and trying to get your number for their daughters.”

I didn’t think much of it until later the same day when a customer struck up a conversation with me.  After a little small talk she smoothly remarked, “…and if you’re single I have a couple of daughters….”  As she trailed off I quickly informed her that I am married before she continued any further.  “But you aren’t wearing a ring!” she protested, as if she thought I was pulling the old fake wife routine.  I’m still not sure if her doubt was because I’m not attractive enough to be married or if she thought I was trying to avoid going out with her daughter.

I simply answered that I don’t wear a ring and that I never had because I dislike jewelry and I often work with power tools, explaining the danger of operating a saw with a ring on.  The look of scandal that crossed her face would have shamed slick Willy Clinton.

“It’s also dangerous for a good lookin’ man your age to be going around without a wedding ring!”  Once again, I have always considered myself decidedly average in the looks category, so her compliment slightly embarrassed me.  I looked down and sheepishly said as much, while my ego secretly hoped she would continue the flattery.

What she had already said was enough to get me thinking.  Why is it “dangerous for a man my age?”  I must have arrived at the point where everyone assumes that if you are not married, you are desperately trying to get married.  I also wondered why it has just become an issue since I have been working at this particular store.  I have been avoiding jewelry for 15 years or more, and I’ve been barely wearing my wedding ring for 5 years.  I don’t have an answer for this one, but I suspect it has to do with the clientele.  Relatedly, it’s worth noting that all the comments have come from middle-aged women trying to set me up with their daughters.  Not once has an attractive, age-appropriate woman commented on “the cute new guy.”  Make of that what you will.

S&R in Heidelberg

My wife, Sarah, and I vacationing in Heidelberg, Germany in June 2012.

It’s not like I’m hiding the fact that I’m married.  If anyone asks, I proudly tell them about my wonderful wife.  How she selflessly moved cross-country with me so I could pursue my master’s degree.  How she has worked full-time to support us while I was in school.  How much I admire her kind heart and the job that she does as a social worker on the rough side of town.  How she pretends to be interested in my studies even though I’m a nerd and most of it is pretty dull to most folks.

I have no reason to be deceptive.  The absence of a ring does not make me more likely to cause trouble, and the presence of a ring certainly would not prevent me from illicit behavior were I so inclined.  Ladies, if you don’t trust your husband to go out without his ring, you might reconsider why he is trustworthy at all.  No, I’m not being deceptive, but some folks act as though they’ve been intentionally misled when they find out I’m married but don’t wear a ring, as if I’m perpetrating some elaborate ruse.   But there is also more.  I think that the reactions I have been seeing result not only from a feeling of deception, but also from a deep-rooted discomfort with the bucking of cultural norms.

So, I wore my ring to work today, and I’m still uncomfortable with the precedent that I have set for myself.  This is the first time in a while that I have conformed to social pressure on something like this.  In the end, I guess I thought it would be easier than to explain myself to everyone who asks.  But I probably won’t do it again.

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