Why Zimmerman's New Controversy Matters

On Monday afternoon, George Zimmerman's estranged wife, Shellie Zimmerman, called 911 on her soon-to-be ex-husband.

"He is in his car," Shellie told the operator, "and he continually has his hand on his gun, and he keeps saying 'Step closer,' and he is just threatening all of us." The operator asked what "step closer" implied. Shellie answered: "And he's going to shoot us."

George, Shellie, and Shellie's father — who according to Shellie was punched by George, though it also appears that George is living in her father's house — were questioned by police, with George taken into custody under suspicion of domestic violence. Shellie chose not to press charges, and no arrests were made. "We have no victim, no crime,” said the Lake Mary police chief.

Reports on what actually occurred differ: George's infamous defense lawyer, Mark O'Mara, admitted that Zimmerman acted "inappropriately," but never actually took the gun out from under his jacket. George himself said his estranged wife and her father were the "aggressors" in the situation. O'Mara told Anderson Cooper that Zimmerman was still "suffering" from the aftereffects of his trial for the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin, and the gargantuan outcry that followed — including hundreds of death threats made against George, claimed O'Mara and the Zimmerman family.

The criminal justice system has always remained fair to Zimmerman, even when public opinion has been biased — to put it mildly — against him. There was insufficient evidence to charge Zimmerman with murder or manslaughter, ruled six jurors, and so he was acquitted.

It's worth noting that the state of Florida has the right to press charges of domestic violence against Zimmerman, even if Shellie doesn't: if they don't, particularly in such a high-profile case, this will probably be because they lack evidence for the charge.

Still, the fact remains that Zimmerman has now found himself in another gun-control debate, this time surrounding domestic violence. Shellie has told ABC that George was never physically abusive, but did emotionally abuse her, and she was the one to make the decision not to press charges.

As it turns out, Zimmerman's ex-fiancé took him to court back in 2006 to try to get a restraining order —based on accusations of domestic violence. In 2005, Zimmerman "resisted" an officer using physical violence. We'll never know what exactly happened with Trayvon Martin, but we do know that Witness 9 in the Martin trial, a neighbor in the area, said that confrontation and violence was, for George, "in his blood." (Witness 9 separately accused George of sexually molesting her for ten years when they were children. George is two years older than her, and charges were not filed.)

Can we assume that Zimmerman is guilty of domestic violence? Absolutely not. Yet Zimmerman — who, at our count, owns at least two guns, and was recently photographed shopping for more — is for the media morphing into a symbol at the center of gun-control debates, a symbol for continuing to evade prosecution.

Because the facts about domestic violence are this: one-third of women murdered in America are killed by their current or former partner. And a male partner's access to firearms increases a woman's risk of being killed by five times.

There's no question that something needs to be done about the alarming partnership of domestic violence and guns. Handguns, in particular, are in sore need of regulation in this regard: they're used in three-quarters of domestic violence homicide cases.