Responding to what they see as a one-sided battle in the court of public opinion, gun advocacy groups have surfaced in recent days to pledge legal support to the defense of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who fatally shot an unarmed teenager in February. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, but has not been charged with a crime and is not in custody.
The case, which is being investigated by federal officials, has triggered national outrage and calls for the civilian neighborhood watchman to be prosecuted. But some gun advocates have jumped to his defense, saying his reputation -- the subject of much media scrutiny and public scorn -- has been ruined.
“We wanted to help someone who we feel has been wronged and found guilty in the court of public opinion,” Chris Kossmann of Legal Boom, a Tampa, Florida-based gun rights group, told HLN Monday in a phone interview.
“People have been crying for justice but we don’t think people know what real justice is. As of yet nobody’s stood up for him (Zimmerman),” Kossmann said. “There’s never really been an outlet for people to support Zimmerman. They are numerous people supporting the other side,” he said. “But anyone who has sided with Zimmerman has been ridiculed for it.”
Kossman said Legal Boom has been in contact with Zimmerman attorney Craig Sonner about contributing to the neighborhood watch captain’s defense fund. “We have spoken with him (Sonner) on two different occasions." Declining to cite specifics, Kossmann said, “We’re currently working together to further our talks.”
Another gun rights organization, the National Association for Legal Gun Defense, seeks to donate $10,000 toward Zimmerman's legal expenses.
"We're an association that wants to help the legal cases of gun owners who claim self defense," Fort Worth, Texas, attorney Blue Rannefeld, a member, told HLN late Monday.
Rannefeld said the group is not trying to decide the case in any way -- but one particularly disturbing development in the saga has spurred the group to action. "This is not a statement about guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman. This is really a response to the bounty that was placed on his head. We really think that that was egregious."
Last month the separatist New Black Panther Party, described as a hate group by a civil rights organization, offered a $10,000 bounty offer for Zimmerman's capture despite vehement opposition, including from Martin's family.
The National Association for Legal Gun Defense has yet to get in contact with Sonner but the group has heard from numerous supporters, Rannefeld said. "We've been getting a tremendous response, and it's been more positive than negative. People have been calling in asking if they can make $30 contributions," he said.
Sonner, in a Time Magazine interview Sunday, said that he has received death threats and that his phone has been jammed. “The facts of the evening (of February 26) … have been spun by the media,” he was quoted as saying.
HLN tried to reach Sonner for a comment but was unsuccessful.
On Monday, Martin family attorney Daryl Parks raised new concerns about the initial Sanford Police investigation on the night of the shooting, saying “(On the police report) they list Trayvon’s address and date of birth but they don’t contact the family, so there’s some concern whether that information was put in there initially or added at a later date. All of that is fair game for the inquiry by the officials that they do a fresh look at this case in its entirety,” he told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien.