Zimmerman’s friend says something weird


My brother forwarded me this article from Headline News’s obsessive coverage of the George Zimmerman trial, in which Zimmerman’s friend Mark Osterman explains how he convinced Zimmerman to buy a gun. Quote:

He asked whether he should or shouldn’t—to start with—and I recommended that he should. Anybody who’s a non-convicted felon should carry a firearm. The police aren’t always there.

Dear friends: when I am on trial for murder, please do not describe me as a “non-convicted felon.” Also, great advice on the gun thing, Mark.

By most accounts, the Zimmerman trial is going badly. “Badly” is a matter of perspective, of course, based on an ipso-facto approach to the situation. Zimmerman is an adult, and Trayvon Martin was a child; Zimmerman was acting in his self-appointed capacity as a neighborhood watchman, and Martin was buying Skittles; Zimmerman got out of his car and followed Martin after police told him not to, and Zimmerman had a gun when Martin did not. Now Martin is dead, and Zimmerman is on trial for second-degree murder.

The prosecution’s decision to charge him with murder and not manslaughter is part of the reason the last few days of the trial have focused on minutiae. The murder charge requires the prosecution to prove malicious intent, and so Zimmerman’s remarks before he pursued Martin—“these fucking punks always get away”—and other clues to his mindset have become matters of intense scrutiny. These are important issues in a criminal trial, but in the midst of hourly coverage, they tend to obscure the larger iniquity of an armed adult following and then killing an unarmed child.

Which brings us to that gun every non-convicted felon should carry. Had Zimmerman not armed himself, he almost certainly would not be on trial for murder right now. Zimmerman himself insists that he only shot Martin because the teenager was reaching for his gun as they fought. Even allowing for the fitness and energy of an adolescent, the man outweighed the boy by 30 pounds. Had he been carrying a can of pepper spray instead of a pistol, his worst-case scenario would be an assault charge right now, and/or a lost fight.

Getting beaten up is terrifying and awful. It shouldn’t happen to anybody, even people who seek out and confront the people who beat them. It’s hard to argue that Trayvon Martin getting killed is a more desirable outcome than George Zimmerman losing a fight, though. The problem with the gun as an instrument of self-defense is that it offers very few midpoints between threat and deadly force.

If you’re trying to keep someone from tackling you, pointing a gun at them is pretty much the most reliable way to do it. Once someone has tackled you, though—for instance, the teenaged stranger you followed down a dark street—that gun becomes a liability. It pretty much forces the fight into a life-or-death situation, since control of the gun is likely to determine the winner. As Zimmerman’s explanation points out, he pretty much had to shoot Martin to preclude the possibility of Martin shooting him.

It’s the same reason I don’t carry a knife: if, heaven forfend, I get into a fight, I don’t want there to be a knife around. The problem with Osterman’s belief that any non-felon should carry a gun is that it magnifies the significance of  any bad interaction. If we were all armed, there would probably be a lot fewer bar fights. The ones that did break out, though, would be much more likely to become bar murders.

That’s what happened to Zimmerman. He was not a cop, but he armed himself and went out at night to patrol his neighborhood anyway, literally looking for trouble. Whether he found trouble or made it is a matter for the court, but there is no question that he brought the trial and the misery of having killed a child upon himself, mostly by his vigilantism but also with his gun.

How different would Zimmerman’s life be if he were on trial for following Martin down the street, confronting him, and then breaking his arm in a kimura? How much happier and healthier would he be if he had taken up jiu jitsu instead of buying a gun? We’re well into the realm of conjecture, here, but how different would America look if former cops like Osterman told their friends to work out rather than carry around a machine that makes every fight into a life-or-death decision?


Combat! blog is free. Why not share it?
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Reddit


  1. It appears childhood is an ethical characteristic to you. I wonder how you might have reasoned in the 1600s before childhood was created.

  2. Childhood certainly includes an ethical characteristic, one I believe Dan appropriately employs that quality here. It’s not as if we simply invented a new word for a certain age and nothing else has changed. Over the last several centuries of development, human societies have distinguished childhood as different from adulthood in a variety of ways very relevant to ethics: responsibility, freedom, expectation, work habits, physical norms, etc.

  3. Keep a lookout….observe…follow…notify police…keep in sight….
    This seems sufficient for any neighborhood watch, if the goal is keeping the neighborhood safer.

    Getting out of the car and confronting, despite police admonitions, is more characteristic of not wanting to miss out on the “action”, and on
    wanting to use that gun one has been carrying.

    I’m an old broad. If I didn’t “belong in the neighborhood” and someone followed me slowly in his car, then got out and pointed a gun at me, I might reasonably fear for my life. I might also get in a couple of licks before the gun holder blasted me. Would he be exonerated because I tried successfully to knee him? Because I had the temerity to respond to a threat of violence with violence of my own? Would that make me a dangerous old b***** who deserved to die? What about my own right to “hold my ground”?
    Or do we have a separate set of standards for black teenagers in hoodies and another for old white women in pedal pushers?

  4. Speaking to child v. adulthood: It has been pointed out that most civilizations no longer have a coming an age ritual. Most old rituals happened in the early teen years, such as bar mitzvahs. This may have slowly lead to the adult child that plagues, specifically, America. If you doubt this, please come by the bar I am working at today.

    Sidenote: Fraternity hazing often mimics ancient coming of age rituals: trials, lack of sleep, forced service, odd ceremonies, drinking lots of intoxicating substances, beatings and, sometimes, burying alive. Now think about just how crazy some people are for their frats.

Leave a Comment.