Politics & Policy

This Shooting Should Sicken America’s Armed Citizens

(via Flickr)
If a person shoves you, you can shove back. You don't have the right to kill him.

In a world awash with disturbing videos and images, some stand out. Over the weekend, I saw a video that’s bothered me ever since. It’s grainy, and it’s not graphic, but it’s still sickening. It’s the short video of a man shooting another man in the chest. I’m not going to embed it in the article, but if you want to see it, you can watch it on this Good Morning America report.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened. A young woman, her boyfriend (Markeis McGlockton), and their young son pulled into a handicapped parking spot at a convenience store. While the car idled, McGlockton went inside to get snacks. While inside, a 47-year-old man named Michael Drejka (who reportedly has an odd history of initiating confrontations over parking spaces) approached the car and started an argument with McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs.

McGlockton walked outside, saw Drejka and Jacobs arguing and pushed Drejka to the ground. While McGlockton stood a few feet away, Drejka pulled a gun and shot McGlockton in the chest. McGlockton staggered away, into the convenience store, where he died in front of his son.

Incredibly, the Pinellas County sheriff, Bob Gualtieri, is refusing to charge Drejka, citing Florida’s stand-your-ground” law. At a news conference, Gualtieri said, “The law in the state of Florida today is that people have a right to stand their ground and have a right to defend themselves when they believe that they are in harm.” This is an inexcusably bad misstatement of the law. Drejka should be charged, and law-abiding Florida gun owners should demand accountability.

First, let’s deal with the applicable statute. The stand-your-ground law most assuredly does not grant citizens the right to use deadly force whenever they believe they are “in harm” (whatever that means). Here’s what Chapter 776 of the 2108 Florida statute, “Justifiable Use of Force,” says:

(1) A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.

(2) A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.

Note that the statutes contemplates two very different circumstances, one where a person is authorized to use “force, except deadly force” and the other where “deadly force” is authorized. So, no, not every punch, kick, push, shove, or fear of “harm” grants a person the right to pull his gun and shoot. It just grants him the right to punch or push back. That’s it. It would be utterly absurd if every physical altercation immediately granted the victim a license to kill. That’s not the law.

An armed citizen should not be mall-copping his way through life, initiating confrontations.

Deadly force is authorized only in the most extreme circumstances, when a person “reasonably believes” that it’s “necessary” to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm” or to prevent the “imminent commission of a forcible felony.” This is not a subjective test. In other words, the question isn’t whether Drejka believed he was in imminent danger of death, but rather whether his belief was reasonable.

He was shoved to the ground after angrily confronting a man’s girlfriend. If that circumstance grants Drejka the right to kill, then the first paragraph of the stand-your-ground law is meaningless. Any person could respond to physical contact with deadly force.

Compounding the injustice is Drejka’s own absurd conduct. An armed citizen should not be mall-copping his way through life, initiating confrontations. And that’s especially true if you’re a grown man interacting with a young woman. There are many, many men who (quite reasonably, I might add) will react physically if they see a strange man confronting their wife or girlfriend.

When you’re an armed citizen, you’re a protector, not an enforcer. If you want to be an enforcer, go to police academy and put on the uniform. Those who enforce the law are trained not just to know the law but also how to do so without escalating to violence — and the clear markings of their uniform signals to the world that they’re not hostile or threatening. They’re simply doing their job.

Justice demands that Michael Drejka face a jury of his peers.

This is a matter of sheer common sense. Imagine you walk out of convenience store and see a man arguing with your wife or girlfriend. If that person is a cop, you might be alarmed, but only in the most extreme circumstances would you think she was in any kind of imminent danger. It would be insane for McGlockton to walk up and shove a cop. If the person arguing with your girlfriend is a complete stranger, your level of alarm increases exponentially. You don’t know what might happen.

America’s armed citizens should be the most vigilant about enforcing not just the law but also the norms and values of gun ownership. And, on that score, the concealed-carry community is remarkably successful. The available evidence indicates that it’s more law-abiding even than the police. As a person who has long carried a gun, I know that these statistics are no accident. The concealed-carry community preaches and practices responsibility and prudence. It also seeks justice, and justice demands that Michael Drejka face a jury of his peers. Any other decision discredits stand-your-ground laws and cheapens human life. A shove should not be punishable by death.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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