McCain Says States May Mull Defense Laws After Martin Verdict

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Demonstrators attend a "Justice For Trayvon" rally in Chicago, Illinois, on July 20, 2013. Close

Demonstrators attend a "Justice For Trayvon" rally in Chicago, Illinois, on July 20, 2013.

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Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Demonstrators attend a "Justice For Trayvon" rally in Chicago, Illinois, on July 20, 2013.

Senator John McCain said state laws protecting people who use force in defending themselves may “need to be reviewed” in light of the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

McCain, an Arizona Republican, said that includes his own home state. “I’m confident the members of the Arizona legislature will because it is very controversial legislation,” McCain said today on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

So-called stand your ground laws, which exist in some American states, allow a person to use reasonable force to defend themselves without any requirement to retreat from a threatening situation. George Zimmerman, the man who was tried for killing Martin, didn’t invoke Florida’s law in his defense.

The comments made by McCain came as officials including President Barack Obama digested the acquittal of Zimmerman, which has sparked protests around the country.

In a surprise appearance Friday in the White House briefing room, the president explained in personal terms his reaction to the shooting death of the 17-year-old Martin by Zimmerman, a Florida neighborhood-watch volunteer.

“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” the nation’s first African-American president said, underscoring the vulnerability many black Americans say they are unjustly subject to racial profiling and violence -- no matter the status they achieve.

“There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store,” Obama said. “That includes me.”

Too Optimistic

McCain, whom Democrat Obama defeated in the 2008 presidential election, called the president’s statement “very impressive,” and added that his own statements after the campaign that the United States had made strides on the question of race were “probably too optimistic.”

“I think old prejudices die hard, especially in hard economic times,” McCain said.

At a rally for Martin yesterday in Miami, the victim’s father praised Obama for speaking out.

“It touched our heart that the president did say that,” Tracy Martin said on CNN, referring to his family. “It just sends a message to the world that, you know, this could have been anybody’s child.”

Robert Zimmerman, the brother of the man who was found not guilty of murder, likewise praised Obama’s effort.

“The American people wanted to hear from the president,” Zimmerman said in a July 19 interview with Fox News. “I’m glad he spoke out today.”

Threatening Situations

While Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law wasn’t used by Zimmerman’s defense in the trial, Obama said such statutes, implemented in whole or in part in at least 30 states, may increase the likelihood that someone who is armed would use a gun rather than retreat from a threatening situation.

Obama asked whether Martin would have been freed if he had been legally armed and shot Zimmerman because he felt threatened after being followed.

“If the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws,” Obama said.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and Tea Party backer, criticized Obama for suggesting such laws should be changed.

“It is not surprising that the president uses, it seems, every opportunity that he can to go after our Second Amendment right to bear arms,” Cruz said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “This president and this administration has a consistent disregard for the Bill of Rights.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Carter Dougherty in Washington at cdougherty6@bloomberg.net; David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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