The Trayvon Martin case raises a whole slew of questions about how legislation can lead to many different citizen interpretations. Anyone following the news during the past 2-3 days probably heard all about Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old boy who was shot by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch man. Zimmerman, alleges that Martin constituted a threat therefore triggering him to shoot Martin in self defense. Following the shooting, police discovered that Martin was unarmed and was only carrying a bag of Skittles in his pocket after returning from a trip to the local convenience store. Zimmerman remains uncharged as a result of Sanford Police’s interpretation of a 2005 law mandating that any Florida resident who feels threatened in any way can utilize a firearm in self-defense.
As public health practitioners, we need to be extremely cognizant of these types of laws and become actively engaged as health educators in educating citizens about them. While this law does allow citizens to defend themselves in threatening situations, it can be interpreted in many different ways and could have a significant impact on the prevalence of youth violence. Where do the boundaries lie? When is it acceptable to shoot? When is it not acceptable to shoot? What can seem as a harmless interaction between two individuals, clearly can spiral out of control and lead to something much more destructive. In an effort to reduce gun violence deaths, public health officials need to become more actively engaged in educating citizens as soon as laws like this Florida law are passed so that the line is clear. Public health education is no longer just about getting people to know about what choices they can make, it’s about helping citizens understand how policy impacts their behavior.