The following are Mike Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. For more information on the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign, click here. To read the press release from the event, click here.
I think it’s fair to say that the tragic death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida touched a nerve all across this country. Whatever the ongoing investigation into his death concludes, I believe we all have a responsibility to investigate the meaning of this terrible event for our nation, and then take action. That process includes some soul-searching that is in all fairness now going on among lawmakers across our nation, including the great state of Florida.
“In 2005, the NRA began pushing a so-called ‘Stand Your Ground’ law there, and the law that has been cited to justify the gunfire that killed Trayvon Martin. Florida was the NRA’s first target, and it succeeded in pushing the bill through the legislature over the objections of leading police and law enforcement leaders.
“Since then, the NRA has managed to spread this law to 24 other states, telling legislators that this would make their communities safer. Well, it didn’t turn out that way – and we now have the data to prove it.
“In reality, the NRA’s leaders weren’t interested in public safety. They were interested in promoting a culture where people take the law into their own hands and face no consequences for it. Let’s call that by its real name: vigilantism.
“It’s now clear that these laws have undermined the integrity of the justice system, and done real harm to public safety. They have sown confusion in police departments about when to make arrests. They have made it more difficult for prosecutors to bring charges in cases of deadly violence. And these ‘Stand Your Ground’ states have seen a major increase in so-called ‘justifiable homicides.’
“These laws have not made our country safer; they have made us less safe. And that’s why so many law enforcement leaders oppose these laws. It’s why some legislators who voted for these laws are having second thoughts. And it’s why today, we’re launching a nationwide campaign urging legislators to take these steps: Reform or repeal these laws where they have been passed, or defeat them in states where they have been introduced.
“Now the fact is, all Americans already have a right to defend themselves with commensurate force, but these ‘Shoot First’ laws have nothing to do with that or with the exercise of Second Amendment rights. Instead, they justify civilian gunplay and invite vigilante justice and retribution with disastrous results.
“The strongest law of all is one that is never on the books, and that is the law of unintended consequences. ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws prove that that’s true. And that’s demonstrated by the widely reported increase in what are deemed justifiable homicides in ‘Stand Your Ground’ states.
“Look at what happened in three major states during comparable periods before and after ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws passed. Before ‘Stand Your Ground’ became law in Florida, the state averaged 12 cases of justifiable homicide per year. Since the law passed, the average has been 36 – three times higher.
“Pre-‘Stand Your Ground,’ Georgia averaged seven justifiable homicides a year; since enacting ‘Stand Your Ground,’ the average has been 14 a year – twice as many. And Texas averaged 26 justifiable homicides a year before passing a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law; since the law passed, the average has been 45 per year.
“Now, no matter how the State of Florida’s investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin turns out, one fact is abundantly clear: Florida should never have allowed his shooter, George Zimmerman, to legally carry a gun in the first place. This was a man with a history of violence – including arrests for assaulting a police officer and for domestic violence.
“I can just tell you that in New York, we would never allow such an individual to carry a gun, and neither would many other states. And yet – just weeks after the incident – United States Senators introduced NRA-backed legislation that would require all states to honor any permit to carry a concealed weapon issued by any other state. That means individuals in a state with low standards – or no standards – would be able to carry guns anywhere they wanted to, no matter what laws a state might adopt.
“In fact, Florida authorities have still, as far as I know, not revoked George Zimmerman’s concealed carry permit. So if Congress passed the legislation, today he could legally carry a gun in New York City, or anywhere else.
“Last December, a New York City Police Officer, Peter Figoski, was gunned down by a career criminal armed with an illegal semi-automatic pistol. I gave a eulogy at his funeral. I looked his daughters in the eye. He has four daughters; they were grieving for their father. How do you explain to those young girls that their father is not coming home because somebody, who the law prevents from having a gun, was able to get a gun and nobody really went after him.
“Police officers and families in my city, and in cities and town across the nation, face similar dangers. We owe them – just as we owe Trayvon Martin – a commitment to do more to take guns out of the hands of dangerous people and to make our communities safer.
“‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws do not make our communities safer. We’ve learned that the hard way – and even those who once favored the laws I think are starting to recognize the need to change course.
“Our coalition will contact State Legislators in every state that has passed a ‘Shoot First’ law, and we will put particular emphasis and focus on reforming or repealing the law in Florida. We will run a grassroots campaign, conducting outreach to legislators, producing public education materials, creating model legislation, and mobilizing the public to get involved.