By Jim Salter
ST. LOUIS — A top National Rifle Association official levied sharp criticism against the national media on Saturday, accusing it of sensationalizing the Trayvon Martin case and ignoring other crimes that happen across the country every day.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre didn't mention the Martin case by name during his speech at the group's annual meeting in St. Louis, but he accused the media of "sensational reporting from Florida." The 17-year-old Martin was unarmed when he was fatally shot Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense.
Police initially didn't charge Zimmerman, prompting nationwide protests. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder last week.
The case has drawn new attention to self-defense laws that give people a broad right to use deadly force without having to retreat from a fight. The NRA strongly supports such statutes, known as "stand your ground" or "castle doctrine" laws, which are in effect in about 30 states.
Until Saturday, LaPierre had declined to comment on the Martin case, citing a need to learn all the facts. During the NRA gathering, he called the news media "a national disgrace." LaPierre said violent crime is an everyday fact of life in every American city.
"But the media, they don't care," LaPierre said. "Everyday victims aren't celebrities. They don't draw ratings, don't draw sponsors. But sensational reporting from Florida does. In the aftermath of one of Florida's many daily tragedies, my phone has been ringing off the hook" with calls from reporters.
Some gun-control advocates have seized on the shooting to renew debate about guns. Officials with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence have pledged to use the case to fight proposed federal legislation that would force states with strict gun laws to recognize concealed weapons permits granted in other states that have fewer requirements.
"George Zimmerman is the NRA," the group's president, Dan Gross, said in a statement earlier this week. "And Florida's `Shoot First, Ask Questions Later' law and the paranoid mentality it promotes are products of the NRA's vision for America, where just about anybody can get and use a gun just about anywhere."
Messages left with the group Saturday weren't immediately returned. Rallies against Missouri's "stand your ground" law were held ahead of and during the NRA gathering, though efforts to overturn the law seem unlikely given its strong backing in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
NRA Executive Director Chris Cox defended such self-defense laws during Saturday's meeting, recalling the case of Sarah McKinley, who was alone with her baby in her rural Oklahoma home when an intruder armed with a hunting knife broke down the door. McKinley shot and killed the man.
"Castle doctrine can literally save your life," Cox said.
Zimmerman, 28, told police that he was attacked by Martin and believed he had no choice but to shoot him in self-defense. The teenager's family believes Zimmerman singled out Martin as suspicious because he was black. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press