I t is a reasonable question, one asked by Nina Vinik in an op-ed piece published in the Chicago Sun Times: What might have happened if George Zimmerman hadn't had access to a gun the day he shot Trayvon Martin?
The quick and easy answer (in my mind) is that Martin probably would still be alive today, given that the 17-year-old was unarmed, except for a bag of candy and a soft drink.
Yes, Zimmerman still had a pair of fists he could have used on Martin. But Martin had a pair of fists, too. So what we could have had is a fist fight that might have resulted in a couple black eyes and/or a bloody nose and nothing more.
That was how problems were solved 50 years ago, but not so much anymore. The rediscovery of handguns as the first line of personal defense has made it so. And given the crime rate in this country, that's perhaps as it should be.
It is just as likely, however, that Zimmerman -- without access to a gun -- would not have profiled Martin, would not have stalked him across a residential development. He most likely would not have ignored the stern advice of a 911 operator who told him not to confront the black teenager, who Zimmerman believed was acting suspiciously.
Remember, Zimmerman was not a police officer. And even if he had been a police officer, he would not have had probable cause to stop Martin on a public thoroughfare.
What Zimmerman should have done, as a private citizen, was mind his own business. He didn't. Or call the cops and wait for them to appear. He didn't do that, either. And now a young man is needlessly dead.
The big question for me has less to do with the racial component of this event than does the decision by a jury of six women to set Zimmerman free.
Was that racial, too? Could have been I guess. Five members of the jury panel were white and one was Hispanic, while Zimmerman is half-white (he considers himself Hispanic) and Martin was black.
I have no idea if race played a part in this decision -- I sincerely hope it didn't -- but I will tell you that the very first thought that passed through my mind when I heard Zimmerman had been acquitted was "oh-no, not an O.J. Simpson decision, only in reverse."
And then in a matter of minutes, I was reminded of the trial of the four white cops who were videotaped beating Rodney King into submission in Los Angeles. The evidence was right there on tape for everyone to see, yet the four cops were acquitted in the criminal trial.
So it happens. It doesn't happen often, thank goodness, but it happens. Human beings get themselves all twisted out of whack about what's important and then make a wrong decision about guilt or innocence in a jury trial.
And this comes in a country I think has the best system of legal justice to be found anywhere in the world. Even still, we sometimes make mistakes.
I think that's exactly what happened Saturday night, when the jury in Sanford, Fla., somehow decided that Zimmerman killed Martin in self-defense, even though Zimmerman was the clear aggressor every step of the way.
I'll leave the door open a crack for the jury. Since there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting or forensic evidence to support the prosecution's case, it may have left the jury no choice but to find Zimmerman not guilty.
At the same time, I've never seen or heard anything I believed exonerated Zimmerman in this tragic case. Not even close.
So I guess it's good for Zimmerman I wasn't on that jury.
In my mind, Zimmerman was looking for trouble that night in late-February 2012. He was a wannabe cop with too much gun courage and too little common sense.
This tragedy is precisely what happens when someone with too much firepower and not enough brain power is overcome by a runaway ego.
Boom-boom. An innocent person is dead.
This time it was a black teenager. But it could just as easily have been me.
Some time ago, I saw one of those video photographs taken of someone who committed a robbery -- bank or retail store, I don't recall. Anyway, the picture showed an older man, silver hair, silver beard, mustache, wearing glasses and a black or dark blue hooded sweatshirt.
Right away I thought, "Geez, that could almost be me," because I wear a hoodie almost every day from September through May -- nine months out of 12. OK, I'm old, I like being warm.
It wasn't me in the picture, of course; the man who did the robbery was estimated to be around 50 years old, 6-feet-2-inches tall and 185 pounds.
Take my word for it, that is not me. I'm 64, 5-10 and well over 185 pounds (only my doctor knows for sure).
But it would not have been a stretch for some law-and-order nut with a gun on his belt and a gun permit in his wallet to have seen me out in public and taken me for the robber he'd just seen on TV.
And instead of calling and waiting for the police to corral me, he might have decided to go into action, challenging me, putting his hands on me and me responding in kind.
He's pushing me, and I'm pushing back. I feel like I'm being assaulted. He's calling me names, and I'm returning the favor. We're rolling around in the grass. Maybe I'm getting the better of him. The next thing you know, he pulls out his gun and shoots me in the chest because he feels threatened.
I'm not a teenage black kid eating candy and drinking soda. I'm an old white guy, white beard and hair, wearing glasses and minding my own business on a public street.
But I could be just as dead.
And you still think Zimmerman, or someone just like him, deserves a free pass on something like that?
I definitely don't.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.