Article published Tuesday, November 5, 2013, at Fox News.

New gun rules for Neighborhood Watch volunteers in Sanford, Fla. about race, politics not saving lives

By John R. Lott, Jr.

When lives are on the line, what saves lives -- not politics – should guide policy.

Gun control advocates used to warn about blood in the streets if we didn’t tighten gun laws, but as concealed handgun permits in the U.S. have doubled from 2007 to now, murder rates have fallen by 18 percent.

Enter a new strategy: playing the race card, along with claims that allowing people to defend themselves means that whites will hurt blacks. But this strategy ignores the crucial fact that blacks kill over 91 percent of blacks and that whites kill 84 percent of whites.

Unfortunately, many politicians – from Sanford, Florida to the U.S. Senate – are following a divisive race based strategy.

Tuesday, George Zimmerman’s hometown, Sanford, Florida, is instituting two changes to its Neighborhood Watch program.

Residents who are members of the watch will no longer be allowed to carry a permitted concealed handgun with them nor will they be able to follow someone they deem suspicious.

What is ignored by the mainstream media coverage of these new policy changes is that Martin, without any reasonable justification, launched a vicious, life-threatening beating against Zimmerman, repeatedly slamming Zimmerman’s head into concrete.

Even the prosecution conceded at the end of the trial that Martin was on top of Zimmerman, hitting him. And even Martin’s female friend, Rachel Jeantel, testified that Martin initiated physical contact.

Don’t Sanford officials realize that banning Neighborhood Watch members from being able to carry a gun is going to make them reluctant to patrol dangerous areas?

Particularly in the crime ridden neighborhoods that we want them to patrol? Note that Zimmerman had been asking for police to come even before Martin’s attack, but they weren’t able to arrive until two minutes after the confrontation had ended.

Citizens of Sanford can still walk their neighborhoods carrying their permitted concealed handguns, but they just can’t do it as members of the Neighborhood Watch.

Ironically, this is supposed to improve “accountability,” but this new policy will only mean that those who are carrying for protection can't have as close of contact with the police as they have had in the past. Is that really a step forward?

The change in carrying rules can’t be justified by a general concern over safety. Permit holders in Florida have a truly remarkable safety record.

Since January 2008, only 4 permit holders have had their permits revoked for any type of firearms related violation. With an average of about 850,000 permit holders over that period, the revocation rate was an annual rate of less than one ten thousandth of one percent.

As to the new rule that Neighborhood Watch members can't follow suspicious people, it stems from the mythology built up around the Zimmerman case: He never “chased/followed” Trayvon Martin, but only exited his car when the dispatcher asked him where Martin had gone. When the dispatcher told him that he didn’t need to follow Martin, there was no argument, only a simple “OK.”

It is hardly the first time political considerations have taken precedent over what makes sense for safety.

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee refused to charge Zimmerman with a crime, and he was fired.

The case against Zimmerman was so weak that the local Sanford District Attorney refused to file charges, but, instead of the case being dropped, another prosecutor from another county was found to bring the case.

Even the lead detective on the case, Christopher Serino, didn’t think that charges should be filed against Zimmerman, telling the jury he believed Zimmerman's version of the events. But political decisions removed him from the investigation. Instead politics determined how and when witnesses were questioned after that.

Stand Your Ground rules have been in effect in some states for over 150 years, and 31 states currently have them. Democrats and Republicans used to join together to push these laws. In the case of Florida, the law was passed unanimously by the state senate and by a 94 to 20 vote in the state house in 2005.

In 2004, then-state Senator Obama co-sponsored and voted for a bill that significantly broadened Illinois' 1961 Stand Your Ground law by providing immunity from civil liability for people who use deadly force to defend themselves or their property.

With Democrats solidly in control of the state legislature and the governorship, this bill received overwhelming support: passing unanimously through state Senate and receiving just two “nay” votes in the state House before being signed into law by a Democratic governor.

Alas, politics has infiltrated every level of the gun debate. Last week’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee was no different.

The hearing that I testified before was somewhat surreal.

Trayvon Martin's mother and another mother who had lost her son in a shooting, both of them black, were very sympathetic witnesses who were used by Democrats to claim a racial bias in the laws.

Nevertheless, neither of their sons’ deaths had anything to do with Stand Your Ground laws.

The ultimate irony is that blacks benefit more than whites from Stand Your Ground laws for one simple reason: they are more likely to be victims of violent crime and they benefit more from the ability to protect themselves.

These laws originated to solve real problems. The delay created by the requirement to retreat sometimes prevented people from defending themselves. Requiring an "appropriate retreat" added confusion for those defending themselves and the concept was left to prosecutors to decide. Sometimes overzealous prosecutors claimed that people who defended themselves could have retreated even farther.

The Tampa Bay Tribune collected data on all the Stand Your Ground cases in Florida since the law changed in 2006 and showed that blacks make up 16.6 percent of Florida's population but account for 31 percent of the state's defendants invoking the Stand Your Ground defense. Black defendants who invoke this statute to justify their actions are actually acquitted 8 percentage points more frequently than whites who use this very same defense.

Even the Urban Institute study, often cited by Democrats to prove discrimination shows, to the extent it shows anything, that the opposite is true. It shows that Stand Your Ground laws increase black on white justifiable homicides relative to those involving whites killing blacks.

Neighborhood Watches aren’t needed as much in wealthy white suburbs. Rules, such as the ones being adopted in Sanford, Florida, hurt poor areas the most.

But whether it is Neighborhood Watches or attacks on Stand Your Ground laws, the push for gun control is making the most vulnerable people in our society even more vulnerable.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the recently released “At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?”

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