“We need to get rid of it on the streets. And if people have one, they should be checked out so thoroughly,” said Cosby, who is perhaps best known as the dad on the long-running 1980s TV sitcom The Cosby Show.

“When a person has a gun, sometimes their mind clicks that this thing is – it will win arguments and straighten people out,” the 74-year-old African-American actor told CNN on Sunday.

“In the wrong hands, in the wrong mind, it’s death. It’s wounding people, people who don’t have money to buy a decent meal for themselves, yet, someone will put an illegal gun in their hand,” he said.

Cosby was speaking to CNN about the shooting of 17-year-old Martin in February, a case which has gripped the nation and sparked a fresh debate about race relations and the right to self-defence in the United States.

Prosecutors in Florida last week filed second-degree murder charges against neighbourhood watch guard George Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, over the shooting of Martin in a gated community of Sanford, Florida.

Martin’s parents and supporters say the teen was a victim of racial profiling. Zimmerman’s backers say the watch volunteer fired in self-defence after Martin attacked him.

Cosby has firsthand knowledge of the tragedy of gun violence, having lost a son 15 years ago after he was fatally shot.

He admitted he once owned a handgun, for use in protecting his family, but that he had since decided to get rid of the firearm.

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“I used to have a gun,” he said. “The policeman who okayed it said to me, ‘Mr Cosby, when you pull this trigger, you can’t call it back’,” he said, adding that he came to the decision over time that he was better off without the weapon.

“I also believe that when you tell me that you’re going to protect the neighbourhood that I live in, I don’t want you to have a gun,” he said.

“I want you to be able to see something, report it and get out of the way, because you happen to be a part of the neighbourhood,” said Cosby.

“I don’t want you to get hurt. And I don’t want you to hurt anyone,” he said.