The Societal Backdrop of the Martin/Zimmerman Tragedy

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Category: Popular Culture & Law, Public
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Gated Community EntranceNot surprisingly, the killing of Trayvon Martin and trial of George Zimmerman have prompted much reflection on race-related assumptions and tensions in the U.S. It might also be appropriate to reflect on the societal backdrop of these tragic events and to underscore two social developments that set the stage, namely, concealed carry laws and private, gated communities. Both suggest troubling aspects of contemporary American life.

Concealed carry laws allow the practice of carrying handguns in public in a concealed manner. These laws have grown more common in recent years, and Illinois, which had held out as the last state to ban concealed carrying, just recently gave in. Florida, one of the champions of concealed carry, has issued well over 2 million licenses for concealed carrying since 1987. No clear evidence exists proving that concealed carrying reduces crime, but the concealed carry laws seem to relieve people’s anxiety. For some, concealed carrying or, at least, the option to conceal and carry bolsters a sense of one’s “manhood.”

Private, gated communities, meanwhile, are also on the rise. Again, Florida is one of the leaders, and countless Floridians have taken comfort in residing in private enclaves, often behind walls and gates. The society outside those walls and gates is taken to be menacing and dangerous. In other states as well, many have abandoned any sort of deep and defining affiliation with a town or a city in favor of belonging to private spaces supposedly sealed off from the surrounding trouble and tumult. Often these communities have corny names such as “Deer Run” or “Oak Crest,” which are designed to connote nature. Some scholars have dubbed these private, gated communities “Privatopia.”

George Zimmerman was carrying a concealed handgun and guarding a gated community, and Trayvon Martin is dead. I do not underscore these facts in order to challenge the jury’s verdict. However, I do think the rise of concealed carry and the gated community suggests how frightened and anxious, how hostile and combative our society has become. According to the defendant in Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” “There’s just a meanness in this world.”

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