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.

What George Zimmerman can teach us about legal defense

by Sean Maloney, Defense Attorney

If you learn just one thing about armed self defense from the trial of George Zimmerman, it is this …


Subjecting yourself to a police investigation, interrogation from multiple officers, and a reenactment of the incident on-camera without representation as Zimmerman did is nothing short of insane. And it could be a death sentence, or in this case a potential sentence of life in prison.

I always give this advice to my clients: there is nothing you can say to the police post-shooting to keep from going to jail or to win your case. So vocalize your 5th Amendment Right to remain silent and SHUT UP! But, if you choose not to take my advice, remember, there are thousands of things you can say that could land you in prison.

I am well aware of the pressure, the guilt, and the suspicion police officers may lay on you to prevent you from exercising your civil right against self-incrimination. Such as …

“If you’re innocent, you have nothing to hide, and everything will turn out fine.”

“We can do this two ways. The hard way is you refuse to talk, and based on what I have now, I will arrest you and figure it out at the jail. The easy way is you answer my questions now and sleep in your own bed tonight.”

“Only the guilty ask for an Attorney. You’re not guilty are you? I didn’t think so. Just answer a few questions so I can convince my Sergeant, and we can get this over with.”

“I don’t think you did anything wrong. It’s just that paperwork is the worst part of my job. So help me get enough answers to fill out some forms and then we can both get this done.”

Remember, just because the investigating officer says you did nothing wrong, doesn’t mean that’s what he really thinks. And even if he does, the Prosecutor may not agree. The Prosecutor can still charge you and try to send you to jail.

Let’s walk though this.

Imagine you’re at home, someone breaks in, threatens you, and you’re forced to use your firearm in self defense. The moment the police arrive, your home becomes a crime scene. Declare yourself as the resident and say you were in fear for your life and the lives of your loved ones.

Point out your attacker and any weapons and witnesses. Tell the officers you will sign a criminal complaint. Then vocalize your 5th Amendment right to remain silent and that you have nothing more to say until you speak to your Attorney and have had time to compose yourself. Also vocalize that you do not consent to a search of your home, vehicle, and other structures on your property.

Or, if you’re a member of Second Call Defense, simply call the member-only 24/7 Emergency Legal Hotline, hand the phone to the police, and let the experienced attorney who answers vocalize your 5th Amendment rights on your behalf.

Keep in mind that some police officers may not take “no” for an answer. If the situation allows, and you feel you need to, excuse yourself to another part of your home while they investigate. Try calming yourself with deep, slow 4-square breathing. It can help to go outside for some fresh air.

If a police officer tells you to stay put or says that you can’t go outside, ask if you are being detained. If the police officer says “no,” then go. However, if the officer says you are being detained, calmly ask what you are being charged with. At this point, do not speak to a police officer without your lawyer present other than to vocalize that you are exercising your 5th Amendment right to remain silent, and that you request to speak with an attorney.

Don’t argue your case. Don’t be disrespectful. This isn’t the time to give authorities a lecture. Mentally prepare yourself to spend some time in jail. Just suck it up and let it happen. Things will change the moment your attorney arrives. Let him make the arguments and fight on your behalf.

Imagine that George Zimmerman simply asserted his 5th Amendment right to remain silent and informed investigators he had nothing to say until he spoke to an attorney. Imagine he has taken time to calm down and collect his thoughts before making a statement.

No hours of recorded interrogations. No video reenactment at the crime scene. No ill-advised statements to the media. No conversations with neighbors, friends, and relatives.

There would have been no verbal ammunition for prosecutors to fire back at him at trial. And likely, there would have been no prosecution. You would have never heard the name George Zimmerman.