One of the reasons that I still consider myself somewhat libertarian-leaning is that libertarians offer a spot-on critique of the use and abuse of government power, especially as it plays out in the ongoing militarization of police forces in conjunction with the ever-growing (and ever deadlier) “War on Drugs.” When SWAT teams get the wrong address and gun down grandmothers; when military-geared police officers raid a local mayor’s home and shoot the family dogs because of a a package mailed by drug dealers in an elaborate scheme that had nothing to do with the family living there -- that’s when libertarians are there to raise the alarm about government overreach, even despite pretty high levels of public support for the strong-arm tactics of state and local police forces.
But when a private citizen uses and abuses deadly force and kills a innocent teenager, the anger apparently goes poof. Jacob Sullum at Reason -- a reliable source of information on the deadly antics of SWAT teams -- tries to remake the killing of Trayvon Martin into a lesson on the importance of self-defense with guns. How do you do that? By trying to downgrade what happened the night George Zimmerman shot 17-year-old Martin dead. Specifically, you can start a paragraph with this sentence:
Judging from the evidence so far—in particular, Zimmerman's police call and the cellphone conversation that Martin had with his girlfriend right before the shooting—Martin would still be alive if Zimmerman had not been so eager to play cops and robbers.
And end it with this one:
And even if Zimmerman could easily have gotten away, it does not seem likely that he "shot [Martin] in cold blood," as an attorney for the boy's family asserted. The shooting may have been unjustified, but it seems to have happened in the heat of the moment.
It really should have to go without saying, but: In the heat of a moment created entirely by Zimmerman. There has been no doubt cast on the fact that Zimmerman pursued a kid he deemed "suspicious" when he was expressly told not to. Saying that the shooting of a 17-year-old "may have been unjustified" is a chilling bit of diminution to try to turn this into an argument for broader self-defense and gun rights. When a SWAT team with itchy trigger fingers shoots innocent people dead, it's a violation of libertarian principles that (rightfully) demands high dudgeon. When a self-appointed "neighborhood watch" guy with an itchy trigger finger does it, its really an example of why we all need more guns.
Really, if libertarians like those at Reason and Radley Balko believe that the fetishization of military grade weapons and tanks are corrosive influences on police departments, why are those same types of things not corrosive influences on individuals. God knows, from available information, Zimmerman seemed to be under that same kind of self-delusion as a vigilante force for good.
I'd like the local police not to accidentally shoot people dead in their gung-ho, Hollywood action fantasies of good guys versus bad guys. Unlike some libertarians, I'd like to expect the same out of my neighbors.
(A lot of people are writing about Trayvon Martin right now, which is good, since this case needs all the attention it can get. I think the best, most moving stuff I've seen is coming from Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic, as well as this piece from Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post.)
Edited to add: Of course, right after I post this, Julian Sanchez posts this, which to be fair is a good libertarian take from the other direction than Sullum's.