By Sean Pittman
It’s time the NRA address Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute.
The nation’s premiere gun-rights group flashed a brief spark of common sense in reacting to a decision by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri who cited the controversial law as his reason for not making an arrest in a fatal shooting that followed a dispute over a parking space.
Instead of pushing a confusing and controversial statute, the NRA can show some leadership by working with law enforcement, lawmakers and the courts to rein in Stand Your Ground and bring some clarity to the self-defense law in Florida and other parts of the country.
If you still doubt that Stand Your Ground has its problems, take the recent shooting out of Clearwater that has Florida and its controversial self-defense statute back in the spotlight.
The tragedy began with an argument between Michael Drejka and Markeis McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs. McGlockton had parked in the store’s handicapped space, which irritated Drejka and led to a confrontation. Told that a man was shouting at his girlfriend, McGlockton rushed from the store and pushed Drejka to the ground in an apparent effort to defend Jacobs and his young children inside the car. As McGlockton backed away, Drejka drew his gun and fired.
Drejka is white. He has a concealed carry permit and a history of confrontation, but the sheriff who is also white dismissed Drejka’s past as irrelevant to the shooting. McGlockton and Jacobs are black. It’s easy to see the injustice here.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground statue gives a person the right to use deadly force – without a “duty of retreat.” Drejka told deputies he had to shoot to defend himself, Gualtieri said. Citing the high burden of evidence on the state to show that Drejka was unable to use Stand Your Ground as a legal defense, the sheriff opted against making an arrest.
Imagine if Drejka had been black and McGlockton a white man defending his family? Does anyone believe a black shooter would escape arrest due to Stand Your Ground, much less avoid getting fatally shot by police? That’s another problem with the law: its inconsistent application, which usually works against people of color.
Several Stand Your Ground supporters took issue with the sheriff, but one voice stood out. “Nothing in either the 2005 law or the 2017 law prohibits a sheriff from making an arrest in a case where a person claims self-defense if there is probable cause that the use of force was unlawful,” Marion Hammer, Florida’s NRA lobbyist, told Politico.
Personally, I’d like nothing better than to see Stand Your Ground repealed, but at the moment that might be wishful thinking. Ever since its passage in 2005, the Florida statute has been the model for the NRA to spread its Second Amendment zeal to other states. Today, Stand Your Ground is law of the land in 25 states.
Stand Your Ground advocates believe the law makes society safer because would-be criminals will think twice with more people carrying firearms. However, every credible study shows Stand Your Ground allows more people to use force when it’s not necessary.
The NRA created this monstrosity of a statute in its zeal to promote gun rights. It now has an opportunity to rein the statute in for the sake of providing much needed clarity and safety.
Sean Pittman is the Senior Partner of Pittman Law Group, a Tallahassee-based law firm with statewide operations that specializes in government, administrative and corporate law.