In an article by Andrew Burmon on the Huffington Post site, a plea is made for travelers to think about avoiding Florida as a vacation destination. The author argues that the “Stand Your Ground” law, which has been scrutinized and criticized in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting, poses a treat to the safety of tourists. Therefore, he reasons, it makes sense for tourists to stay away from Florida for their own good, not to mention the economic pressure this would place on legislators to reconsider or rescind the law.
Being a Florida resident, and having relatives and friends whose livelihoods depend heavily on the hospitality and travel industries, I am taken aback by this just a bit. I am solidly behind those who want the “Stand Your Ground” law scrubbed. It is a nonsensical piece of legislation, and it is an unwelcome remnant of the Jeb Bush era which we would be much better off without.
However, this “boycott Florida” concept seems to be rooted in the increasing media hysteria that has sprung up around the Trayvon Martin case. It is the same hysteria that has allowed TV networks and programs, which should all know better, to give people like Joe Oliver and Robert Zimmerman national platforms from which to peddle their own opinions and accusations, while calling it “news”. It’s the same hysteria which causes media vultures to try digging up “incriminating” photos or posts from Trayvon Martin’s Facebook and Twitter pages. It is the same hysteria that led film director Spike Lee to tweet an address, which was he thought was that of George Zimmerman, to his 250,000+ followers. The frenzy to appropriate anything Trayvon-related has, in some ways, shifted the media’s focus away from reporting and ensuring public awareness of the case, and more toward Jerry Springer-style sensationalism.
Burmon’s article is another by-product of this whole atmosphere, where even a travel writer feels he must find a Trayvon angle to incorporate into his post. You get a feel for this sensationalism from the very first words you see – the headline is patently ludicrous in its overwrought assertion that “Travelers Can Save The Next Trayvon Martin By Avoiding Florida”. But to present the “Stand Your Ground” law as a valid reason for tourists to avoid a trip to Florida is stretching a premise far beyond the point of logic. To begin with, the “Stand Your Ground” law doesn’t actually apply to the case of Trayvon Martin. It states that you do not need to retreat if you are attacked, and that the use of force against your attacker (including deadly force) is justified if you feel that you are in danger of death or great bodily harm. George Zimmerman was not being attacked, nor was he in any sort of danger, while he was in his car, calling local police out to his neighborhood. He put himself in danger by leaving his vehicle to pursue Trayvon. At that point, “Stand Your Ground” became a moot point in this particular case.
Still, the fact that “Stand Your Ground” was brought up as a possible defense for Zimmerman when the case first made national headlines is the reason that this law became a focal talking point. People across the nation are certainly within their rights to debate and decry this law, as many in Florida (including some of those who originally supported the measure) are already doing. The article, however, suggests that people should go beyond debate, and should instead exert pressure on Florida’s lawmakers by withholding or redirecting tourism dollars from Florida.
In reality, a tourism boycott of Florida would probably have very little effect in shaping the state’s debate about “Stand Your Ground”. The population of Florida is comprised of a great many gun owners and 2nd Amendment activists.The degree to which guns are an integral part of many people’s lives and lifestyles here cannot be overstated. And the state legislature is keenly aware of this. At the end of the day, tourists can’t remove these lawmakers from office. Their continued political careers are ensured more by the public’s votes and the support of the NRA and other gun industry lobbyists than by families from Ohio who decide to spend their week off in Georgia instead of Florida.
This leads to another point, which is the innate silliness of tourists “protecting” themselves by avoiding Florida. If that family from Ohio wants to avoid states with laws like “Stand Your Ground”, then Georgia wouldn’t be an option either. In fact, they’d need to cross 25 states off their list of possible destinations, and probably eliminate another 9 where expanded “castle doctrine” laws exist (allowing people to “shoot first” in self-defense in other areas outside the home, such as vehicles and places of business), plus 7 more states where similar legislation is currently pending. So, the odds are that they won’t have too many choices left for their vacation planning. Even more importantly, most Americans are already living in a state where laws like these exist, or are pending (yup, that includes our hypothetical family from Ohio).
When it comes right down to it, Florida is as good a place as any to visit if you’re a tourist. Despite the conservative bent of many who live here, the most popular tourist destinations (Disney World, Miami Beach, the Florida Keys and Fort Lauderdale) are very diverse and inclusive, with room for different cultures, colors and sexual orientations. The specific areas where most tourists spend their time are not the redneck towns where they would run a significant risk of encountering an armed George Zimmerman type. And the gun laws we have here might be fairly similar to the ones where you live right now. So, we all should do what we can to make sure that such laws are brought out into the light to be discussed and, hopefully, revised or rescinded. Here in Florida, even our gun-loving population, jolted by the death of
Trayvon Martin, has begun that very discussion already. But we should recognize that this sort of work might also be needed in many places other than Florida – including, possibly, your own backyard.