The Florida acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who Zimmerman said he shot in self-defense, has resulted in a surge of business for a Texas company that insures gun owners.
"People who have seen what happened to Zimmerman began to consider their own circumstances and asked how would their life be affected if something like that happened to them," said attorney Edwin Walker, co-founder of Texas Law Shield.
Texas Law Shield, a Houston-based company that provides legal representation for gun owners who act in self-defense, charges members a base monthly fee of $11 to advise them during police investigations and represent them at trial. The four-year-old company has a 24-hour hotline to assist its more than 70,000 Texas members if they have questions about the state's self-defense laws, Walker said.
"There are about half-a-dozen crimes where a person can be charged if they simply display or discharge their weapon," Walker said. "You don't have to shoot someone to get in trouble."
Mark Walters, a spokesman for the United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) and host of the Armed American radio show, said interest in the company's services has "phones ringing off the hook," in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict.
The USCCA offers coverage to gun owners through its Self-Defense Shield plan. The platinum plus package provides $500,000 to gun owners who have to settle or pay any civil claims that arise from self defense gun uses. USCCA has about 60,000 members, Walters said.
"If someone's carrying a firearm and they have to display or discharge their weapon and it is reported to police, they should anticipate charges being brought," Walters said. "If you make a decision to carry a weapon, you should consider taking out one of these types of policies."
Weapon offenses for displaying or carrying a weapon can range from aggravated assault to deadly or disorderly conduct to unlawfully carrying a weapon by a license holder. Self-defense investigations can be life-altering. Darrell Schooler said it took less than two seconds to make the decision to fire his weapon, but it took weeks for him to get out of jail while authorities sorted through the details.
Schooler, 47, of Fort Worth, was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after shooting at a man outside a Fort Worth nightclub on Aug. 6, 2011, Tarrant County district clerk records said. Schooler was released after posting a $7,500 bond, according to Tarrant County jail records.
His attacker hit his car window three times with his fist and the butt of his gun before Schooler pulled his weapon and fired, shattering the car window. The man was surprised by the flying glass and shot himself in the arm, Schooler said. Schooler was no-billed by the grand jury on March 20, 2012, district clerk records show.
Attorneys from Texas Law Shield represented Schooler during the investigation. Representation was free with the exception of Schooler's monthly premiums.
"This is insurance I thought I'd never have to use," Schooler said. "Without it, I'd probably be in jail for something I didn't do. God was with me that day. If I had leaned an inch-and-a-half to the left, I wouldn't be talking to you now. That's how close I came to getting my head blown off."
The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics special report released in May concluded that an average of 67,740 gun owners used their weapon in self-defense annually during a five-year period between 2007 and 2011.