Bad Timing To Celebrate Pro-Gun Rulings
Pro-gun activists may have planned to boldly celebrate the fifth anniversary of Richard Heller’s successful gun rights case. However, a murder spree in Santa Monica and the start of George Zimmerman’s murder trial are over-shadowing those plans.
Jury selection began on the second-degree-murder trial of 29-year-old George Zimmerman charged in the gun death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin, an unarmed African-American, was walking to the home of his father’s girl-friend when Zimmerman confronted him. A fight ensued. George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. Now Zimmerman must prove his actions were self-defense and protected by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
While Americans were bracing for racial fallout from Zimmerman’s trial, five lives were taken in Santa Monica, California, including Carlos Franco's, 68, and his daughter Marcela Franco's, 23. John Zawahri opened fire near a Santa Monica college campus. Marcela Franco was being driven to Santa Monica Community College by her father when Zawahri fired shots at their car. Carlos Franco died at the scene. Marcela Franco succumbed to gunshot wounds two days later at UCLA Hospital.
After indiscriminately shooting at cars, a public bus, and pedestrians, gunman Zawahri, 23, wearing all black clothing, a load-bearing vest, and armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, was shot and killed by police. High-powered weapons and over 1,300 rounds of ammunition were found in his car. Before leaving home, Zawahri, who allegedly suffered from mental illness, first shot his father, Samir Zawahri, 55, and his own brother, Christopher Samir Zawahri, 24, then, set fire to their family home.
Earlier this year, the NRA attacked Congress’ proposed background checks, restrictions on gun ownership by the mentally ill, assault weapons, and limits on gun magazine rounds, as illegal encroachments on Second Amendment rights. Congress had hoped America’s shock over Adam Lanza’s gunning down of 20 primary school children, Lanza’s mother, and six female employees at Newtown, CT.’s, Sandy Hook Elementary School, in December of 2012, would propel Federal gun control legislation.
However, not even this Connecticut massacre was enough to stop the National Rifle Association’s powerful campaign to block passage of Congress’ proposed gun control. President Barack Obama’s fury over this mainly partisan defeat meant little. Sixteen States further loosened their gun laws, including now allowing guns on college campuses and arming public school personnel. Wyoming judges may now carry guns into their courtrooms.
But New York State passed the nation’s most rigid gun control laws in March. Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Colorado have also made it more difficult to own a gun. At the center of the controversy is the Heller decision. Richard Heller was a special officer with the District of Columbia who became frustrated when he could carry a gun in federal office buildings, but D.C. law prohibited possessing a gun at home.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Richard Heller’s personal gun ownership. It was the first U.S. Supreme Court ruling in decades involving the Second Amendment. In addition to the Heller decision, there was an associated Chicago gun case. In 2010, Otis McDonald, African-American, and residents from Chicago’s South Side, challenged that city’s restrictive gun laws. Pro-gun groups succeeded in winning that case, as well.
With the anniversary of the case bearing his name, Richard Heller is a busy man. Recently, Heller, European-American, gray hair, wearing a dark suit, complained about the negative view of gun owners in the media. Heller said, “Television coverage of gun rights always shows ‘Bubba’ instead of an intelligent person in a suit and tie” carrying a concealed weapon.
Alan Gura, an attorney for the pro-gun cases, readily acknowledged modeling his Second Amendment case on strategies developed by civil rights attorneys Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston. Pro-gun advocates have yet to face accusations of ‘social engineering’ hurled after successful civil rights cases.
For now, Heller-related anniversary events are cautiously subdued. Although emboldened by their defeat of proposed Federal gun restrictions, with Zawahri’s Santa Monica massacre, and renewed focus on George Zimmerman’s gun trial, pro-gun activists may judge this not to be the best time to celebrate a gun victory.
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, a legal correspondent covering the U.S. Supreme Court, is an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College in New York City, and author of “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present.”