7 critical lessons from America's most notorious gun owner
No matter what you might think of George Zimmerman or whether he was justified in shooting Trayvon Martin on that rainy February night in 2012, one thing is certain: it's a self defense case that has taught us all a lot about what not to do.
Here are 7 critical lessons for anyone who owns or carries a gun.
Don't get out of the car. There's a famous line from the movie "Apocalypse Now" where, after being scared by a tiger, a character keeps repeating to himself, "Never get out of the boat!" In Zimmerman's case, it would be "Don't get out of the car!" In other words, don't go chasing after someone no matter what your motive. That goes for your house, office, or anywhere you encounter a potential threat. It's not that it's necessarily illegal. It's that it makes you look more like the aggressor in the eyes of the law. And it could put you in an unnecessary confrontation.
Don't rely on cheap equipment. Zimmerman had a flashlight, but it was a cheap one. He was fumbling around in the dark and banging on the flashlight to try to get it to work. That was one of the many distractions he had to deal with that may have prevented him from sensing the impending attack. If you're going to carry self defense equipment, whether it's a gun or a flashlight or anything else, make sure it's high-quality. Your life depends on it.
Don't take your eyes off the threat. When Trayvon Martin approached George Zimmerman, Zimmerman started fumbling with his mobile phone. He may not have perceived Martin as a threat, however it's always wise to stay focused on anyone who approaches you, no matter who they are and what the circumstances. If Zimmerman had only kept his eyes on Martin, it's possible that he wouldn't have gotten sucker punched and ended up on the ground in a life-or-death struggle. Trying to disengage or retreat is fine, but never turn your back or take your eyes off a potential threat.
Don’t assume police are your friends. If you're a law-abiding gun owner, law enforcement is not your enemy. The majority of police are in favor of armed citizens and want you to be able to defend yourself. But don't treat responding police as your friends either. They don't know you. And when there's a body on the ground and you're the one with the gun, it's likely they'll start with the assumption that you could be the bad guy. And when you're full of adrenaline and get a bad case of diarrhea of the mouth, it's likely that you'll dig your own legal grave. Zimmerman thought of local cops as his buddies and let his guard down.
Don't forget to assert your 5th Amendment Right. It used to be that you could just stay silent and not answer questions. But in a recent Supreme Court case, Salinas v. Texas, that changed. Now you must vocalize your right to remain silent or your silence could be used against you as proof that you're trying to hide something. This is what you need to say: "Officer, I refuse to answer based upon my 5th Amendment Rights under the United States Constitution." You MUST refer to the 5th Amendment. You can't just say you don't want to talk. Zimmerman should have asserted his right to silence and shut up.
Don't give interviews without your lawyer. As a Neighborhood watch captain, and someone familiar with local law enforcement, George Zimmerman assumed and expected that the police department would look out for his best interests. After all, he volunteered to help the police keep his community safe. But he talked at great length to authorities, including multiple interviews on video, without an attorney. And prosecutors picked apart his statements word-by-word and used this against him in court.
Don't be surprised if a civil lawsuit comes next. As a rule, civil suits follow criminal proceedings. So it's possible that you may have to defend yourself twice. To be found guilty in a criminal trial, the prosecution needs to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But in a civil trial, you can be convicted by a "preponderance" of the evidence. So even if you're found not guilty of criminal charges, you can still be sued and financially ruined. So far, Zimmerman hasn't been threatened with a civil suit, but it's still possible.
Remember O.J. Simpson? He was found not guilty for two murders in 1995. Two years later, he was found guilty in a civil trial and ordered to pay a whopping $33,500,000 in damages. Basically, he was tried twice for the same crime. When they couldn't get him the first time, they went after him again and won.
We've said this before, but it's worth repeating. If you get into legal hot water after you defend yourself with a firearm, it will probably be because you said or did the wrong thing when dealing with authorities.
Don't make the same mistakes Zimmerman made.