The shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., by a neighborhood watch guy with a gun may yet turn out to be a race-based crime, even as we keep hearing that the shooter, George Zimmerman, has a Hispanic mother.

We may never know everything that happened between Zimmerman and Martin, how much of the trouble might have started because Martin was a young black in a hoodie, and Zimmerman might have been one more gun-carrying American in the year 2012 who still thought the combination of the hoodie and the young man’s color had to equal this:


We may never know, even after we get Zimmerman’s version, if this was a crime based on race, or hate. But even in a shoot-first state like Florida, a jury may eventually be asked to decide whether Zimmerman was acting in self-defense, as his attorney keeps saying he was, on the night Trayvon Martin died.


But whatever did happen in Sanford on Feb. 26, after Zimmerman made a call to 911 and was told to stand down and did not, we already know something for sure:

The young man is still alive if Zimmerman doesn’t have a gun on him.

It makes Martin another official victim of the gun war in this country. And it makes Zimmerman one more person in the America where the National Rifle Association treats gun shops and gun shows like porn, who should have never been allowed to own a gun or carry one, even in a state where gun stores like the one I saw Saturday on Southern Blvd. in West Palm Beach actually have names like “Shoot Straight.”


We know who the straight shooter was on the night of Feb. 26. Trayvon Martin was the teenager packing Skittles and iced tea. George Zimmerman was the one with the gun. But this was gun-crazy and gun-loving Florida, which has led the way on laws that allow the use of deadly force in self-defense outside the home with no duty to retreat. This is Florida, where young blacks between the ages of 13 and 21 are now 23 times more likely to be victims of a gun homicide than white males the same age.

The opposite of all that is New York, which has the toughest and best gun laws in the country. But once you are out of town and out of state, you see the NRA relentlessly working to make buying a gun as easy as buying a lottery ticket. And if you fight the gun lobby and its tame politicians on that — or insane laws like Florida’s Stand Your Ground — you’re not just soft on crime, you’re about half-a-criminal yourself.

The constant menace in New York City is illegal handguns, the way they keep making their way to the city from all the states in the South, where they worship guns as much as they do Jesus. Still: Somebody has to explain to me why the well-financed zealots from the NRA, the ones who want to make getting a gun easier and easier in America, aren’t just a more well-heeled kind of menace.

Again: There is so much to know about what happened between Zimmerman and Martin, what was said, what really happened after Zimmerman’s 911 call. What we will never know is Trayvon Martin’s version of things from the night when he never made it to the home of his father’s fiancée.

The fact that the victim was an African-American male in a hoodie now drives an increasingly outraged conversation out into the streets now. But the unchanging fact of this, now and forever, is that Trayvon Martin, 17, is dead because the other guy had the gun.

Here is what Daniel Gross, the president of the (James) Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, wrote for the Huffington Post:

“George Zimmerman is the embodiment of the gun lobby and its vision for America. George Zimmerman is the NRA.”

Sometimes you wonder why we even need a gun lobby, at least outside of New York, where our politicians stand up to guns and where Mayor Bloomberg never backs up. Just about everywhere else the gun guys seem to get what they want. They now have 25 states with broad shoot-first laws. It means they are halfway to where they want to be someday.

Even before the rest of the country even knew Trayvon Martin’s name, Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska, was pushing the National Reciprocity Act, a companion to the boneheaded House Bill 822 (passed last fall in Congress), which allows out-of-state visitors to carry firearms as long as their home states allow them to.

Good times! It means that George Zimmerman — if he stays out of jail — might be legal walking around New York with a concealed weapon someday, might get the chance to keep our neighborhoods as safe as the one he was watching out for in Sanford last month.