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COURSEY: Race? Who knows? Guns? You betcha.


Unless your name is George Zimmerman, you don't know whether the killing of Trayvon Martin was about race. Only the man who pulled the trigger on that February 2012 night in Sanford, Fla., has the answer to that question.

But you don't have to be inside George Zimmerman's head to know that this tragedy was about guns.

Take away his gun, which he was carrying legally under Florida law, and Zimmerman likely wouldn't have gone out of his way to confront a stranger in the street on a rainy night. Take away his gun, and Zimmerman might have paid more attention to the police dispatcher, who told him not to follow Martin and instead wait for officers to arrive in response to his call. Take away Zimmerman's gun, and Trayvon Martin would have lived to see his 18th birthday.

Florida, famously, has a so-called "Stand Your Ground" provision in its self-defense law, which allows a person who fears for his or her life to immediately use deadly force against an attacker. But Zimmerman never exercised his right to a hearing requesting that charges against him be thrown out based on "Stand Your Ground," so it wasn't a factor in his trial for second-degree murder.

But self-defense certainly was. And while the jury's official verdict was that the prosecution did not prove Zimmerman was guilty of murder or manslaughter, it's clear that the six-woman panel believed Zimmerman was defending himself when he fired that shot.

Whether he was defending himself or not, though, would never have been in question if he hadn't targeted Martin in the first place.

Zimmerman, 29, was a neighborhood watch volunteer who called police to report a suspicious person in his gated community. Martin, 17, was returning from a trip to 7-Eleven, heading toward the house where he was staying in that same community. According to police, the young man was doing nothing wrong that night.

But Zimmerman figured he was, and he wasn't willing to wait for the police to find out. As he told the police dispatcher: "These assholes, they always get away."

So, with a 9-millimeter handgun legally concealed in his waistband, he chased Martin through the darkness.

Who caught whom is in dispute, because only one of them lived to tell the story. The confrontation turned physical, and the one with the gun shot the one who was unarmed.

We are left to wonder: Had it been Martin who had a gun, and Zimmerman who was killed, would the young black man have been acquitted for self-defense? He was, after all, stalked and chased and confronted by a stranger in the night.

We are left to wonder: What happened to Trayvon Martin's right to "stand his ground?" He was, after all, stalked and chased and confronted by a stranger in the night. At what point did his actions turn him into the aggressor instead of the defender?

We are left to wonder: Where is Zimmerman's culpability here? He did, after all, stalk and chase and confront a stranger in the night. And when the stranger fought back, Zimmerman killed him.

We are left to wonder: If that isn't a crime, what is?

What we don't have to spend too much time wondering is whether it's a good idea to allow civilians to legally carry guns in the community. It's not.

Had George Zimmerman left that pistol locked up in his condo, he would have made it to the grocery store that night, and Trayvon Martin would have made it home.

<i>Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.</i>