Domestic Abuse? Fatal Shooting? Take George Zimmerman's Guns Away, Already
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Exactly what happened on Monday between George Zimmerman and his estranged wife, Shellie, in Lake Mary, Fla., is still in doubt — but seeing the words “Zimmerman,” “gun” and “altercation” strung together once again has turned Zimmerman into a lightning rod for questions regarding gun violence and domestic abuse in the United States.
Based on the initial report, Shellie called the police that day claiming Zimmerman, brandishing his firearm, was threatening her, daring her to “step closer” to him. “I don’t know what he’s capable of. I’m really, really scared,” she told the emergency dispatcher. He violently destroyed her iPad, she said, allegedly cutting through the device with his pocketknife. He also apparently came to blows with her father, and allegedly exhibited the complete lack of self-control and dangerously poor judgment for which the public has come to know him.
But because Shellie changed her story only hours later — saying she never saw a firearm, and that she wouldn’t press charges — there was no domestic violence report filed. Absent that, the police didn’t pursue a warrant to search Zimmerman’s vehicle for the gun he may or may not have used to threaten Shellie.
Whether or not Zimmerman had a gun on him that day, one thing remains clear: The gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin was lawfully returned to him following his acquittal. And he is, according to recent reports, looking to buy more.
Which invites the question: What does a person have to do in this country to get a gun taken away? Or lose the right to a concealed carry permit? And, more specifically, what does a man with a noted history of both domestic violence complaints and a willingness to use deadly force, who is currently in the news for what may still turn out to be another such incident, have to do?
Turns out: quite a terrifying lot. Because, put mildly, the laws in Florida and elsewhere regulating gun ownership among domestic abusers and men suspected of domestic violence are, shall we say, permissive.
“In our country, and in most states, the scales have been very, very heavily tipped toward the individual rights of gun owners,” Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, tells Salon. “United States policy almost always gives the benefit of the doubt to the gun owner,” and things are no different in cases of domestic violence.
According to recent data, more than 60 percent of women killed by a firearm in 2010 were murdered by a current or former intimate partner. The presence of a firearm during a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by an astounding 500 percent. In general, guns are very, very bad for women’s health.
But in spite of all of the evidence identifying a strong and deadly correlation between gun deaths and violence against women, our policies to protect women (victims of intimate partner-related gun violence are, overwhelmingly, female) are full of holes.
For an example of this, look no further than Florida. In Zimmerman’s home state, as a result of federal law, it is illegal for a person subjected to a protective order to own or purchase firearms, and it is a crime for that person to refuse to surrender them to law enforcement. This is a good law that, when effectively enforced, can save women’s lives. “There are actually three studies now published in scientific journals showing how this policy [barring people subjected to restraining orders from owning or purchasing firearms] is associated with a significant reduction in risk of intimate partner homicide — ranging from a 6 to 19 percent reduction,” Webster notes.