An online advocacy group is calling on Virginia authorities to investigate the company responsible for selling gun range targets depicting Trayvon Martin, whose slaying spawned a national controversy.
Change.org—an influential Internet-based advocacy group, who had a role in rallying votes for President Obama in 2008—has initiated an online petition that calls on Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli to “shut down” and “punish” Hiller Armament Co., the alleged seller of the merchandise.
“It is utterly vile AND potentially illegal,” the petition read, citing Virginia law that "prohibits the unauthorized use of a person's name, portrait or picture for advertising or trade purposes.”
On Friday, Florida TV station WKMG reported on its website that the then-unidentified seller admitted they were trying to make money off Martin’s shooting death.
“The response is overwhelming,” the seller told reporter Mike DeForest in an e-mail. “I sold out in 2 days."
Though faceless, the targets feature the silhouette of a person in a black hoodie with crosshairs drawn on its chest, and a bag of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea sticking out of the pockets. Martin had just purchased these items from a nearby convenience store and was on his way back to his father’s girlfriend’s house when he was shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman on Feb. 26. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges.
The targets were sold on Gunbrokers.com, a popular firearms auction site, but the items—and a cached page—have since been removed. WKMG reported, however, that in an advertisement for the targets the seller stated, “Obviously we support Zimmerman and believe he is innocent and that he shot a thug."
In a later story, RawStory.com reported that the seller’s ID was listed as “hillerarmco” from Virginia Beach, Va. A website by the same name was registered to Hiller Armament Co. in Virginia Beach, but the website and an associated phone number have been disconnected.
Brian Gottstein, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Mr. Cuccinelli has no legal grounds for taking legal action against Hiller as Change.org is urging.
“It is repugnant for anyone to try to profit off the loss of a life. However, the attorney general has no legal authority to act in this case,” he told the AFRO in an e-mail. “As far as the law referenced in the online petition, it allows for the person wronged or his next of kin to ‘restrain the use thereof; and may also sue and recover damages for any injuries sustained by reason of such use.’ That means it is a civil matter and leaves it to the estate of Trayvon Martin – not the attorney general – to initiate any legal action.”
Gottstein went on to say there is a criminal statute that covers similar conduct, but it is not applicable because Trayvon Martin was not a Virginia resident.