04/10/2012 12:14 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2012

What If Trayvon Martin Had the Gun?

I suppose a billion words or more have been written about the death of Trayvon Martin. I hesitate to add more, but a perspective that I've not encountered is nagging.

Some aspects of the tragic events on that rainy Sunday night remain unclear. It is clear that George Zimmerman was carrying a loaded 9mm handgun. It is clear that Trayvon Martin was unarmed. It is crystal clear that Trayvon Martin is dead from a chest wound delivered by George Zimmerman. What transpired between them is largely a matter of speculation. They had an altercation to be sure, but only the two men know who initiated it. Only Zimmerman lived to tell his story. Only the two men know what was in their minds and hearts. Martin's heart stopped beating, so we will never know his side of the story.

Let us stipulate that we don't know these things. How then can we conclude anything about the case? By acknowledging that we don't know what was in their minds and hearts we may, counter-intuitively, come to a valuable perspective. Bear with a set of hypotheticals.

Think for a moment if all the facts as we know them remain intact except that George Zimmerman is unarmed and Trayvon Martin is 18, not 17, and carrying a loaded 9mm handgun. Zimmerman, in his self-appointed neighborhood watch role, is following Martin because he looks suspicious. Skip beyond the opaque time period when it is unclear who initiated a confrontation. In this hypothetical, Zimmerman is dead of a chest wound. Martin, who had a permit to carry the 9mm gun (which he bought, legally, at a gun shop), claims self-defense under Florida's Stand Your Ground law.

Wouldn't Martin's claim of self-defense have arguably greater merit than does Zimmerman's claim? Martin was the one being followed. Martin was the one with a legitimate reason to be walking in the community. He had a destination in his sights. Zimmerman was cruising slowly in a car and apparently had Martin in his sights for some reason. Martin had reason to be frightened. Neither man had any knowledge as to the other's purpose. Yet would anyone claim, with a straight face, that Trayvon Martin would be walking free as the State Attorney and Justice Department investigated the matter?

Or try this: Trayvon Martin is the self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer, legally carrying a 9mm handgun. He's wearing a hoodie because of the rain and chill in the air. He thinks George Zimmerman looks "suspicious" and follows him. Zimmerman keeps walking, moving away from the sidewalk, hoping the hooded stranger loses sight of him. What happens next is unclear, except that Zimmerman and Martin apparently have an altercation and Zimmerman lies dead from a chest wound. Martin claims self-defense, arguing that Zimmerman turned around and began to brutally beat him, despite having no visible signs of having been beaten severely. Martin, like Zimmerman, has every right (in Florida) to carry a loaded weapon and appoint himself to a neighborhood watch, yet would anyone claim, with a straight face, that Trayvon Martin would be walking free as the State Attorney and Justice Department investigated the matter?

All you have to do is change their roles or put a legally purchased, permitted handgun in the other man's hands. In every scenario I can imagine with George Zimmerman dead, Trayvon Martin would be in jail. Martin was young, black and wearing the wrong clothing. Zimmerman is walking free.

These hypotheticals say nothing about Zimmerman's guilt or innocence, but they speak volumes about racism in society.