The group behind a pro-second amendment rights forum has decided to alter its upcoming event featuring Mark O'Mara, the defense attorney for Florida resident George Zimmerman. Although the upcoming event featuring O'Mara initially included a raffle for a handgun and a bible, organizers of the event decided it would be best to push the raffle portion of the event to a later date considering the prize handgun was the same model as the one used by Zimmerman when he shot and killed teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. in 2012.
The Gun Rights Preservation Forum was scheduled to take place on Nov. 4 in Viera, Fla., with keynote speaker Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's defense attorney. In conjunction with the forum, organizers also created a raffle in which one attendee would win a bible and a Kel-Tec PF-9 semi-automatic handgun. After realizing this is the same model of handgun used by Zimmerman when he shot Martin in February 2012, organizers of the event decided to push the raffle portion of the forum to a later date, citing sensitivity to O'Mara and others, including the Martin family.
Bob White, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Central East Florida, the group holding the forum, told FloridaToday that when his organization initially planned the event and the raffle, it did not realize that the gun prize was the same model as the handgun used by Zimmerman. He said he chose to postpone the raffle portion of the event after O'Mara contacted him to express his concern.
"The right thing to do is to postpone the raffle," White told FloridaToday. "In making this decision to postpone the raffle, we are trying to be sensitive to concerns expressed by our featured speaker, Mark O'Mara, and others, regarding appearances relating to the raffling of the Kel-Tec 9 mm," White continued.
"We have no doubt that George Zimmerman used this weapon legally in the defense of his own life. Certainly, its use prevented further serious bodily harm to himself, and he may very well have saved his own life by its use. We also recognize, though, that another life was lost in the process, and we do have empathy for the parents of Trayvon Martin. Losing their son was tragic, regardless of the circumstances."
White went on to say that board members of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Central East Florida decided that continuing to hold the raffle in conjunction with O'Mara's talk would serve no beneficial purpose and may even distract from the true purpose of the forum, which was to express the importance of second amendment rights in the U.S. White added that the raffle could "cause needless additional heartache for the parents of Trayvon Martin."
"Nothing good could come from such a thoughtless act," White said of the raffle.
Prior to the decision to postpone the raffle, the Republican caucus received criticism for its decision to have the handgun prize at O'Mara's speaking event. In a letter to the editor posted on the FloridaToday website, one critic called the raffle "shameful," saying: "I have been proudly registered as a Republican voter and activist for 43 years. I also responsibly own and conceal carry. However, this thin veil of gun rights and liberty is nothing but a smoke screen. Stupidity like this drives a wedge into our communities and soils every conscientious Republican."
Before canceling the raffle, White told FloridaToday in a previous article that he was hoping O'Mara's talk and the raffle would result in a large turnout, hopefully upwards of 200 people at the Nov. 4 event. The raffle portion of the event is now expected to take place sometime in December, and proceeds from the raffle will go toward lobbying efforts and public education regarding the protection of personal liberties.
In June, 29-year-old George Zimmerman was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter charges for shooting teen Trayvon Martin, who Zimmerman shot in his gated community in Sanford, Fla. in February 2012 after the two got into an altercation. Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense, while the prosecution argued Zimmerman racially profiled Martin and used excessive force in killing the unarmed teen.