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Monday, Sep 02 2013 11:00 PM

NORM HAUGNESS: Zimmerman — The chilling tip of nation's self-defense iceberg

Now that the furor, pro and con, arising from the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict has died down somewhat, could it be time to step back and assess what's been done and try to predict its likely effects?

What, if anything, has our society learned from the jury's decision, publicly condoned by the court? And what changes, if any, are we justified in expecting of the future actions of increasingly armed citizens all around us?

This much we already know:

If an armed black adult with Zimmerman's record had stalked and accosted an unarmed white kid, who was peacefully returning from a grocery store carrying a bag of Skittles and talking to a white friend on his cell phone, and shot the white kid to death, that same central Florida jury of white conservatives would (very quickly) have reached a second-degree murder verdict.

Much of our criminal justice law is founded in (scientifically suspect) notions about deterrence -- that is, punishing those guilty of criminal conduct will ipso facto prevent others from emulating their deeds.

To keep us all safer, as we see in Texas and the other capital punishment states of our South, which kill the most murderers yet keep suffering the highest murder rates in the land. But aside from the gory ineffectuality of the laws of poor Texas, few of us doubt that crimes systematically un-punished do tend to increase in frequency and severity.

Which brings us back to Zimmerman. The sheriff of his Florida county has revealed that Trayvon's killer can have his 9mm back, and no doubt Z has already retrieved it. Next time he or one of his innumerable surrogates goes out to night-stalk another black teenager, wouldn't it be, well, interesting if the teen turned out to be packing, felt fear, and blasted him in the heart with the teen's own 9mm, using the same "stand one's ground' rationale cited so clearly by the Martin/Zimmerman trial judge in her jury instructions?

Far from being deterred from stalking and killing another black kid, Zimmerman will now, having the majesty of the law and the court at his back, actually be encouraged to pursue this legally approved behavior again. As will every gun-besotted concealed-carry nut in Florida. And throughout the nation, given the world-wide attention Z's trial and its outcome received. An ominous green light has conspicuously been turned on.

With that of Illinois becoming, on July 9, the 50th and final state legislature to lose its collective mind on this issue, it is now permissible by law throughout America (except in D.C.) to carry your own concealed people-shooting weapon. Plus as many additional multi-bullet magazines as your multi-pocketed camo jacket will hold. This the NRA, of course, considers progress. In spite of a Stanford/Johns Hopkins study which revealed in 2011 that the number of "aggravated assaults" increases in "states where concealed-carry laws were passed."

Naturally, our personal safety level goes up as more of our neighbors secretly arm themselves. Just ask Wayne LaPierre, gun salesman extraordinaire. My monthly issues of American Rifleman magazine report lots of home invasions, each foiled (!) by a citizen with a gun. An informal check I did of recent news reports here in Kern County showed an approximately 18-to-one ratio of armed assault to armed self-defense incidents. We all have access to the news, and the news generally supports this rough survey count. (No, the "news" does not include gun industry house organs like American Rifleman, whose job it is to persuade rather than inform.)

According to a Government Accountability Office estimate, about 8 million Americans had such carry permits in 2012. This does not take into account the millions (including perhaps some reading these words) who, to paraphrase the famous bandit, "don't need no stinkin' permits" to practice their "God-given" rights.

The 516 killings by concealed-carriers since 2007 reported by the Violence Policy Center are very likely merely the "official" tip of a very chilling iceberg. As the natural consequences of the Zimmerman verdict kick in, this toll can only increase, while concealed-carry enthusiasm careens blindly into its own deadly product.

Norm Haughness is a Tehachapi writer . Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.

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