I think science fiction writer Robert Heinlein got it wrong.
“An armed society is a polite society,” Heinlein said.
It’s a line frequently echoed by gun-rights groups. But we got a good reminder how questionable that assertion is after another “stand your ground” shooting in Florida that has become national news.
Michael Drejka is the 47-year-old Florida man you may have seen as a grainy silhouette in a viral video taken by a security camera outside a convenience store near Clearwater late last week.
Drejka verbally confronted Brittany Jacobs, 24, who had parked her car in a handicapped spot outside the convenience store while her boyfriend, Markeis McGlockton, 28, and the couple’s 5-year-old son were inside buying snacks. McGlockton then walked out of the store and saw the stranger arguing with his girlfriend as she was opening the car’s door and stepping outside the car.
Without speaking, McGlockton blindsided Drejka, using both hands to shove him violently to the ground. Drejka landed on his backside and in a moment, pulled out his concealed handgun and pointed it at McGlockton, who started to take a couple of steps back without fully turning away. Drejka then fired a single shot that hit the younger man in the chest and eventually killed him.
The shooting has gotten national attention because Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made the immediate determination that Drejka was protected by the state’s so-called “stand your ground” law, and that the shooting was justified under the law, especially after the Florida Legislature altered the law last year in a way that made it even friendlier to the shooters.
“The law now is, that the state attorney has the burden of proof, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant, the shooter, is not entitled to ‘stand your ground,’” the sheriff told reporters. “Nowhere else is there anything like this in criminal law, where somebody asserts something, and the burden then shifts to the other person. So the law is changed dramatically because you’ve got a situation here where ‘stand your ground’ allows for a subjective belief by the person that they are in harm’s way, they are in fear.
“In this case, this guy was slammed to the ground. In very short order, he felt it necessary — seconds — felt it necessary to defend himself because he felt he was going to be attacked again,” Gualtieri continued. “And in order for him not to be justified, you have to take it outside of those bookends. And we are precluded from making an arrest unless we have probable cause that the person committed a crime, and we don’t have probable cause here of that.”
The case is still subject to review by the local prosecutor’s office and it has suddenly revived the 13-year-old law as a political hot topic in this election year.
There may not be any angels here. Jacobs shouldn’t have parked in the handicapped spot. And McGlockton should have intervened in the argument between his girlfriend and Drejka without putting a hand on the stranger, let alone knocking him down.
And what about Drejka’s actions before the shooting? Other people said this wasn’t the first time he had confronted people in the parking lot.
Being a self-appointed parking lot vigilante can be benign. But less so when you’re concealing a firearm.
Drejka is one of the 1.8 million Floridians who is licensed to carry a concealed weapons in public. They are frequently portrayed by gun groups as “good guys with a gun” and our best defense against the so-called “bad guys with guns.”
But there were no other guns in this confrontation.
So this is why I think Heinlein got it wrong with guns.
Drejka knew he had the ultimate fix for any confrontation he started. No object of his scorn was too big or too young to confront. No situation was too delicate.
He could swagger up to cars and be as abusive or caustic as he pleased because he had a hidden, loaded gun that he was ready, and perhaps even itching, to use.
And he lived in a state that gave him every possible excuse to feel justified to use it if he was provoked. He was no longer required to retreat or de-escalate any conflict. All he had to do was to say he felt in danger of great bodily harm, and the law would be on his side.
He’s not the first to take advantage of this. In the decade after “stand your ground” went into effect, the number of justifiable homicides in Florida rose 75 percent.
“So what’s relevant is not whether this guy is a good guy, a nice guy, whether he’s a jerk, whether he’s a thorn in people’s sides, and what he’s done …” Gualtieri said. “The only thing we can look at here: Is he in fear of further bodily harm because of what Markeis McGlockton did? And did he have the ability and the capability to carry this out?
“And the answer is yes. So that’s what we gotta look at.”
Let’s imagine this scene without a firearm in the mix.
I’ll bet that an unarmed Drejka would have been way more polite when confronting strangers. There probably wouldn’t have been a confrontation in the first place if Drejka weren’t armed.
So was he really a “good guy with a gun” or more of a “hothead with a gun”? And how many other Floridians with concealed weapons permits are just like him and grateful to live in a state that gives them a reckless license to kill?