Florida‘s ‘Shoot First’ law allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to walk free without formal charges — for more than a month. Shoot First laws legalize vigilante homicide, even in circumstances that would otherwise merit murder charges.1 In Trayvon’s case, local law enforcement hid behind the Shoot First law as justification for failing to arrest George Zimmerman, saying that his claim of self-defense stopped them from pursuing even manslaughter charges.2
Florida’s dangerous Shoot First law was spread to many other states across the country by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Please join us in calling on our elected officials nationwide to take a stand against the shoot first agenda. It only takes a moment:
In 2005, Florida passed the nation’s first ‘Shoot First’ law using model legislation created by the National Rifle Association (NRA).3 The NRA leveraged its key membership in the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to push this agenda in communities across the country. ALEC has also pushed legislation to expand private prisons, impose harsher criminal penalties on juveniles, privatize education, and break unions.
ALEC is funded in part by the multibillionaire Koch brothers,4 the same family that helps to bankroll the reactionary Tea Party. It also receives funding from large corporations, many of which are household names. Nearly 100,000 ColorOfChange members have demanded that such companies break from ALEC over its championing of voter suppression laws that threaten Black folks’ ability to participate fully as citizens in our democracy.5 ALEC’s shoot first laws threaten our basic ability to walk in our own neighborhoods without fear that our lives can be taken by unaccountable vigilantes.
Even with Shoot First on the books, Florida authorities should have arrested Trayvon’s killer.6 Yet, Shoot First gives police and prosecutors cover to incentivize bad police work, leading to incomplete investigations and a failure to prosecute homicides. Shoot First laws present a grave threat to public safety, and particularly to young Black males, who are nearly five times more likely to be victims of fatal shootings. With the criminal justice system already stacked against Black victims and defendants,7 and with the prevalence of racial profiling in a culture that treats people of color as criminals, our families and communities will continue to pay a heavy price for these laws.
Trayvon’s entirely avoidable death shined a spotlight on ALEC’s reckless push to enact deadly Shoot First laws across the nation.8 Shortly after, ALEC began to buckle under the public scrunity and attempted to salvage its public image. The group responded by disbanding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, claiming that gun issues were no longer a priority. This move was quickly revealed as a PR stunt after the Public Safety Task Force chair, Republican State Rep. Jerry Madden of Texas, said that “many of the issues will be transferred to other committees.9” When asked during a later interview, Rep. Madden refused to commit to taking Shoot First laws off the table.10
Shoot First is now the law of the land in at least 25 states, and at least six others have considered such legislation in 2012.11 So long as these laws exist — and ALEC’s efforts to spread them go unchecked — this won’t be the last time we bear witness to racial profiling ending in senseless violence. Please click the link below to help prevent future tragedies like Trayvon’s, and please ask your friends and family to do the same:
Thanks and Peace,
— Rashad, Gabriel, Dani, Matt, Natasha, Kim, Arisha, Kira, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team May 24th, 2012
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1. “Broward murder suspect wins Stand Your Ground decision,” Sun Sentinel, 12-12-2011 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1272?t=8&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
2. “Police: No Grounds For Arrest In Trayvon Martin Death,” WESH Orlando, 03-16-2012 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1227?t=10&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
3. “The Money Trail Behind Florida’s Notorious Gun Law,” Mother Jones, 03-29-2012 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1399?t=12&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
4. “ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection,” The Nation, 07-12-2011 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1276?t=14&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
5. “Stop corporate-funded voter suppression,” ColorOfChange campaign, 12-08-2011 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1275?t=16&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
6. “Gun Violence Facts by Race/Ethnicity: Overview,” Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1265?t=18&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
7. “1 in 3 Black Men Go To Prison? The 10 Most Disturbing Facts About Racial Inequality in the U.S. Criminal Justice System,” AlterNet, 03-17-2012 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1400?t=20&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
8. “Chuck Todd Takes ‘Deep Dive’ Into How NRA, ALEC Pushed ‘Kill At Will’ Laws,” MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, 03-29-2012 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1264?t=22&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
9. “ALEC leader admits last week’s announcement was a PR stunt,” ColorOfChange blog, 04-24-12 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1402?t=24&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
10. “Disbanded ALEC Task Force Chair: Gun and Voter Issues No Longer Priority,” Media Matters, 04-26-12 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1403?t=26&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx
11. “Trayvon Martin: A Victim of Florida’s Gun Laws?,” Legal Community Against Violence, 03-20-2012 http://act.colorofchange.org/go/1262?t=28&akid=2503.1174326.w9kISx