(Special to The Root) — The National Rifle Association has strongly supported "Stand your ground" laws, which are in nearly 30 states, including Florida. But why has the group not been vocal about the Marissa Alexander case?
On Aug. 1, 2010, Alexander, of Jacksonville, Fla. — then a 31-year-old mother of three with a 9-day-old baby — fired a single warning shot into her ceiling after her husband, who had been arrested twice on domestic-battery charges, threatened her. He allegedly said, "If I can't have you, nobody going to have you." The shot hit no one.
She believed that she had the legal right to defend herself under Florida's "Stand your ground" law — the same defense that George Zimmerman has claimed in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. But a judge decided otherwise, applying the state's 10-20-Life law, under which an assault with a firearm carries a steep penalty. Her sentence? A mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison.
Alexander's conviction has sparked national outrage, and rightly so. The Rev. Al Sharpton has pledged to work on the case. After calling for a Justice Department review of the "Stand your ground" defense and racial disparities in the law's application in the Trayvon shooting, Rep. Corrine Brown denounced Florida's handling of Alexander's case, too. But the nation's most famous gun-advocacy group — the NRA — has so far remained silent.
Historically, the NRA hasn't exactly been shy about defending gun rights. It has opposed sentencing guidelines for gun traffickers, child-access-prevention requirements and a ban on the types of sniper rifles that can disable a plane. In Florida alone, the NRA Civil Rights Legal Defense Fund has provided aid in several gun-rights cases: Colin Bruley for possession of a firearm in the workplace, Michael Carr for being listed as a firearm owner and Richard Lander for being denied a permit to sell firearms in his home.
In fact, in the days following Trayvon's death, the NRA's lobbyists worked on Capitol Hill to promote the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act (S. 1288) to allow states to honor out-of-state concealed-weapons permits. In late March it began selling hoodies with pockets for concealed handguns on its online store.
At the NRA convention on April 12, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre referenced the Zimmerman case, blasting the "sensational reporting from Florida" and the news media that "manufacture controversy for ratings." "By the time I finish this speech," said LaPierre in support of the "Stand your ground" laws, "two Americans will be slain, six women will be raped, 27 of us will be robbed and 50 more will be beaten."
Alexander's case fits perfectly into the narrative that the NRA wants us to hear about the right to bear arms: A woman, who recently gave birth, uses a firearm to fend off an abuser. Not only is the abuse documented by law enforcement, but her abuser-husband, Rico Gray, has admitted to it.
He said in a 2010 deposition, "I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know they never knew what I was thinking or what I might do. Hit them, push them." Gray even admits abusing Alexander "four or five" times.
Shouldn't Alexander be the poster woman for the NRA and "Stand your ground" laws? Why hasn't the NRA come to her public and legal defense? For that matter, where is the National Association for Legal Gun Defense, which sought to donate $10,000 to Zimmerman's defense? Will those who donated nearly $200,000 for Zimmerman's defense fund also reach into their pockets for Alexander's appeals? They should. And I hope the NRA leads the way. I hate to think what it means if they don't.
Jason Silverstein is a Ph.D. student in the department of anthropology at Harvard University. He works for Transition Magazine at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. He can be reached here.