The news that George Zimmerman has been charged in the Trayvon Martin shooting holds out the prospect that justice eventually will be done in this horrific case that has so gripped our nation.  

But we must address the broader injustice of innocent young people losing their lives every day to senseless shootings that need not happen if we can only summon the national will to stop them.

The shooting of Trayvon Martin confronted the American public with a frightening vision of America long pursued by the National Rifle Association – a vision where dangerous individuals like George Zimmerman legally walk our streets with hidden, loaded handguns and a vigilante mentality that has them, literally, “looking for trouble." 

George Zimmerman is the embodiment of the NRA’s vision.  George Zimmerman is the NRA.

This terrible tragedy in Florida has sparked needed national attention to a host of crucial issues, including racial profiling, hate crimes, and the operation of our criminal justice system.  

But however those issues ultimately are sorted out, we know one undeniable truth – Trayvon Martin is dead because George Zimmerman had a gun. His gun emboldened him to defy the instructions of a police dispatcher and pursue Trayvon Martin.  

After a confrontation between the two occurred, the gun made it lethal.

How did George Zimmerman come to be carrying a gun that fateful night?  Because Florida’s abysmal gun laws allowed him, despite his arrest record and history of violence, to carry a loaded, hidden gun in public.  Florida’s gun laws make it the NRA's version of utopia.  

In Florida, being armed in public is such a casual formality that law enforcement does not issue licenses to carry a loaded, concealed gun; that is done by the Department of Agriculture – the same agency that issues permits to pick tomatoes.  

In Florida, being armed in public is such a casual formality that law enforcement does not issue licenses to carry a loaded, concealed gun; that is done by the Department of Agriculture – the same agency that issues permits to pick tomatoes.  

- Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

One newspaper exposé reported that over 1,400 Florida felons had been issued those permits.  

Since Florida originally passed the NRA’s ideal concealed carry law in 1987, the State has consistently ranked in the top five states for violent crime year after year.  And young people like Trayvon Martin die in the NRA’s utopia.

Incredibly, just days after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, the NRA’s allies in the U.S. Senate introduced legislation that would force states with sensible restrictions on carrying concealed weapons to allow Zimmerman, and thousands like him, to carry loaded, hidden handguns in their states in defiance of those restrictions.  

Under this bill, at least until his arrest, Zimmerman could have carried his loaded gun into Times Square. The bill should be called the “George Zimmerman Armed Vigilante Act."  The House of Representatives, in shameful thrall to the NRA, passed similar legislation last year. Now the battle has shifted to the Senate.

As we consider the role of the gun in the Trayvon Martin case, it is meaningful to consider that next week marks the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, as well as the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High shooting.  

The remembrance of these horrific losses of young lives to gunfire will bring 32 gun violence victims to Washington, D.C., including victims of Virginia Tech and Columbine.  Why 32?  Because we lost 32 at Virginia Tech five years ago, but we lose 32 Americans every day to gun murders in America.

The 32 victims are coming to Washington with their own vision for America – a nation where a teenager can buy a pack of Skittles and an iced tea without getting shot. 

They are coming to confront Congressional leaders with the shame of considering making it legal for the George Zimmermans to take their loaded guns into communities everywhere, while doing nothing to keep guns out of the hands of the George Zimmermans in the future.

I’m betting “The 32” will make a difference.  I’m betting they will show the Congress a new path toward ending the injustice of gun violence.   

Dan Gross is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center,  the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence. 

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