Prank bids drive US killer’s gun auction to $90 million

A police officer displays the gun in court in 2013.
A police officer displays the gun in court in 2013.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Bidding for the gun used by a Florida neighbourhood watchman to kill unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin hit US$65 million (S$90 million) on Friday, as hoax buyers appeared to jack the controversial sale to astronomical levels.

Nationwide protests erupted over the 17-year-old’s shooting in 2012, in what the watchman George Zimmerman said was self-defence but which the teen’s family and friends claimed was a murder driven by racism.

Zimmerman’s trial and subsequent acquittal exposed deep racial fissures in US society.

Bids for the Kel-Tec PF-9, a 9mm pistol, began at US$5,000 on Thursday – already far above the market value of a secondhand weapon – and had reached US$65,039,000 by Friday morning on UnitedGunGroup.com, with more than four days left to go in the sale.

Some 1,019 bids had been made within less than 24 hours of the sale beginning on the United Gun Group auction site.

An attorney for Martin’s family denounced the “insulting” sale.

“Think about what that means: This is a gun that took a child’s life and now he wants to make money off of it,” Daryl Parks told The Washington Post.

US reports said a bidder using the screen name “Racist McShootface” made several offers of around US$65 million overnight, though the account was later deleted.

The top bid belonged to a user identified as Craig Bryant.

It was difficult to verify the validity of the bids, with participants using pseudonyms and seemingly bidding against themselves. The website does not request down payments for bids.

Amid growing backlash over the sale, United Gun Group said it would press forward “unless the law has been violated,” and offered condolences to the Martin family.

One bidder went by the pseudonym Tamir Rice – the name of a 12-year-old African American boy shot dead by police while carrying a toy gun. That bidder’s highest offer was for US$430,000.

Website users sparred in the comments section, with some denouncing bids that were clearly fake.

“This just goes to show people how stupid yall really are,” said a user who went by the pseudonym “Quit trolling it’s not worth it.”

User Brez Morrell, whose highest bid was listed as US$485,000, said: “Obviously the jury didn’t think it was murder. He did nothing wrong.”

Zimmerman had previously listed the gun on GunBroker.com, but the auctioneers swiftly removed it, saying: “We want no part in the listing on our website or in any of the publicity it is receiving.”

While serving as a neighbourhood watch volunteer in a gated community in Florida, Zimmerman fatally shot high school student Martin as he was walking home with iced tea and candy in February 2012.

Zimmerman insisted he had been following the teenager on suspicion he was involved in robbery, and that he shot him in an act of self-defence.

He was acquitted of second-degree murder the following year, setting off protests nationwide over Florida’s “stand your ground” gun laws.

Zimmerman advertised the gun as “the firearm that was used to defend my life and end the brutal attack from Trayvon Martin” and called the sale “your opportunity to own a piece of American history.”

“The firearm is fully functional as the attempts by the Department of Justice on behalf of B. Hussein Obama to render the firearm inoperable were thwarted,” Zimmerman’s listing said.

He highlighted President Barack Obama’s middle name in an echo of radical conservative critics who have questioned the US leader’s origins and legitimacy to serve as president.

“I am proud to announce that a portion of the proceeds will be used to: fight BLM (Black Lives Matter) violence against Law Enforcement officers,” Zimmerman wrote.

The Black Lives Matter movement grew out of the killings of a number of young black men across the country, many at the hands of police officers who were not subsequently charged.

The weapon’s online description was accompanied by photographs of the gun taken when it was displayed as evidence in court.

The 32-year-old Zimmerman has made headlines repeatedly since his acquittal over Martin’s death, notably for selling paintings of the Confederate Flag – which many view as a racist symbol – in partnership with a Florida gun store.

He has had several subsequent run-ins with the law.

Last year, he was accused of assault by his girlfriend, although she later withdrew the complaint.

In September 2014, he allegedly threatened a man during a road rage incident on a Florida highway, but police released him because the man did not want to press charges.

In 2013, his estranged wife Shellie Zimmerman called police to say he had threatened her with a gun, but she too failed to press charges.