I was in St. Louis this past weekend, where more than 60,000 gun enthusiasts gathered at the NRA's annual convention. You could enter a booth and squeeze off virtual rounds from an array of high-powered weapons, hear pro-gun speeches by candidates, and join debates about the right to carry concealed guns.
What was absent from the NRA convention, however, was any real discussion on the "Stand Your Ground" law that encourages armed confrontations, and makes all of us less safe. This dangerous "shoot first, ask questions later" law has been raised as a potential defense for George Zimmerman, the self-styled neighborhood watchman who stands accused of murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
The NRA has relentlessly pushed some form of "Stand Your Ground' into law in 25 states -- despite widespread opposition from police and prosecutors, who believe Stand Your Ground laws promote gun violence and vigilantism, not law and order. Stand Your Ground laws don't make us safer. They make us less safe. Since this law was passed in Florida, so-called "justifiable homicides" have nearly tripled in the Sunshine State.
The NRA's silence on Stand Your Ground may have been by design, as it monitors a growing chorus of public opinion rising against this reckless law. "Charlton Heston used to say, "Sometimes silence is the right thing to do," NRA executive vice president Wayne Lapierre told the St. Louis Dispatch last week. "And that really is the case here." After weeks of silence, the closest LaPierre came to confronting the NRA's role in enabling this tragic outcome was to suggest that America's outrage at Trayvon's death was fueled by sensationalized news reports.
Well, I'm sick of the silence. I'm sick of the way the NRA tries to hide every time there's a mass shooting in our country, because there's nothing they can say except to deny reality. I'm tired of watching our elected officials cower and vote for terrible policies on guns, because they buy into the myth that the NRA is omnipotent. It isn't.
And I am outraged that Stand Your Ground is being raised as a defense for Zimmerman, who killed an unarmed 17-year-old as he walked home from buying a bag of candy at the store.
I fought against a similar Stand Your Ground law in Pennsylvania, as director of CeaseFirePA, a gun violence prevention group. Working with PA Gov. Ed Rendell, we beat Stand Your Ground when Gov. Rendell vetoed the law. But as soon as he left office, Governor Tom Corbett rubber-stamped Stand Your Ground in Pennsylvania.
When the news about Trayvon's death reached me -- along with the Stand Your Ground implications -- I was outraged and decided to do something about it. I posted a petition online at Change.org, calling for the repeal of the law "shielding Trayvon's killer."
The petition struck a chord. In just over three weeks, 225,894 Americans, from every state, have signed this petition calling for the repeal of Stand Your Ground in Florida. Their voices are real, and their outrage is genuine.
So I went to St. Louis, and I brought all these American voices with me. We held a news conference at St. Louis City Hall, with St. Louis elected officials, faith leaders, community anti-violence advocates, and three special people from Tucson, Arizona. On a video screen scrolled the names of tens of thousands of American who wanted their voice heard by the NRA in St. Louis, and who want to see Stand Your Ground repealed -- In Florida -- and then in every state that has it.
One of those voices in St. Louis belonged to Mavy Stoddard. Mavy, 77, survived the carnage of Tucson, where Jared Loughner shot and killed six people, including a nine-year-old girl, and wounded 13 others, including Mavy and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Mavy, who owns guns, was in St. Louis along with Patricia Maisch and (ret.) Colonel Bill Badger, who were also in Tucson that terrible day.
I spent the weekend with Mavy, Pat and Colonel Badger, and left St. Louis moved by their sincerity, eloquence, and above all, their heart-rending stories.
"My husband Dory saved my life," Mavy said quietly Saturday in St. Louis. "He shielded me with his body, and I felt him breathe his last. You don't ever forget that, and that's why I'm here. I can't be silent any more about what guns are doing to our country."
I never did hear much from the NRA this weekend about Stand Your Ground, except for Wayne Lapierre's message blaming the media for the scandal. Guns don't kill people, the media does, or something like that. But I did hear the voices of St. Louis citizens, and over 225,000 Americans, and Pat Maisch, Colonel Badger and my new friend, Mavy. The sound of their voices is growing louder and stronger, every day.
Stand Your Ground should be abolished from the land.