NOTHING spells out the weirdness of the US to British eyes as much as that country’s attitude to guns. And nothing looks more squirm-inducing in its oddness than George Zimmerman auctioning the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin four years ago.
Zimmerman is the former neighbour watch volunteer who was acquitted two years ago in the death of the young and unarmed African American. Although he escaped prosecution, the case sparked protest and a debate across the US about race.
It would be fair to say that Zimmerman is not weighed down with contrition, as shown by his listing of the gun yesterday as “your opportunity to own a piece of American history”.
That sounds horribly close to bragging, doesn’t it? Here’s the gun I used to kill that vicious black hooligan; go on, get a piece of that. Trayvon Martin, in case you need reminding, was at the time engaged in the clearly nefarious activity known as returning from the local convenience store in Sanford, Florida while in possession of black skin.
Zimmerman phoned the police minutes before the killing to say he’d seen “a real suspicious guy” who “looks like he is up to no good”. A violent altercation followed and one man ended up dead; and funnily enough it was the unarmed young black man.
Initially, Zimmerman escaped prosecution, but protests around the US demanded a full investigation. He pleaded self-defence and was acquitted of murder.
When putting this vile gun up for sale, Zimmerman made an announcement on Twitter using the account of a Fox journalist (he’s been banned from Twitter): “What I’ve decided to do is not cower; I’m a free American I can do what I want with my possessions.”
Yes, he’s a free American; and Trayvon Martin is a dead American.
At this point I can say that I am tired of writing the name Zimmerman, especially as that man’s ownership of it seems like an insult to Bob Dylan. Other than that perhaps eccentrically personal response, I’d say that one of many reverberations of this story is that giving guns to idiots on neighbour watch duty is about as stupid as it gets.
How short the hop is between seeing something that looks suspicious and killing someone for no reason at all. We don’t do everything right in this country, but our attitude to guns is a hell of a lot more sensible than that which prevails in the United States.
And if my opening paragraph contains a sweeping statement, and one that no doubt sweeps up plenty of Americans who would like to see greater gun control, then it is fair to admit that assorted Americans from President Obama downwards have tried to do something about gun crime, to date without notable success.
There is one even more stupid thing that America could do than sending a man like George Zimmerman out on neighbourhood watch patrol armed with a gun. And that would be to elect as president a man like Donald Trump armed with, well, an army. If that happens the whole world will need watching.