The NRA and Republican lawmakers in Florida are speaking out against the Pinellas County sheriff who chose not to arrest a white gun owner who killed a black man last month in a heated argument over a parking spot. Even the powerful gun-rights organization thinks Sheriff Bob Gualtieri misapplied the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law—which the NRA has previously called a “human right.”
The deadly confrontation began after Markeis McGlockton and his 5-year-old son went into a Circle A convenience store to buy snacks and drinks while McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, and two of their children were parked in a disabled spot. While McGlockton and his son were inside, Michael Drejka—a regular at Circle A who detested able-bodied people parking in reserved spots—approached the car and began lecturing Jacobs about Florida’s disabled-parking regulations. Jacobs told Good Morning America that Drejka was “harassing” her and said that he “was picking a fight.”
Security footage shows McGlockton exiting Circle A and shoving Drejka to the ground before appearing to take several steps away from him. While sitting on the ground, Drejka took a pistol out of his pocket and shot McGlockton once in the chest. McGlockton staggered back into the store and collapsed. He died shortly after.
The next day, Sheriff Gualtieri announced that Drejka would not be arrested or charged with a crime because his actions fell within the scope of Florida’s “stand your ground” laws, which allow people to use deadly force “if he or she reasonably believes” it is necessary “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” Gualtieri claimed that the law introduces a “subjective standard” for using deadly force and also suggested that the sheriff’s office could be civilly liable if they arrested Drejka. He further noted that last year state lawmakers updated the 2005 “stand your ground” laws, which makes it easier for defendants to claim self-defense.
In a press conference following his announcement, Gualtieri tried to explain his rationale by probing what was going through Drejka’s mind before he pulled the trigger. Drejka “felt after being slammed to the ground, the next thing was he was going to be further attacked by McGlockton,” Gualtieri said. In her Good Morning America interview, Jacobs countered by saying that McGlockton was afraid, too, and had acted to defend his girlfriend and children.
Florida’s “stand your ground” laws faced deep scrutiny in 2012 after the fatal shooting of 17-year-old black teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Police declined to arrest George Zimmerman, the gunman, on the night of the shooting because he claimed he had acted in self-defense. Zimmerman was later charged with second-degree murder, but he was found not guilty—a decision that led to the Black Lives Matter movement. Zimmerman’s legal team chose not to seek immunity for him under the “stand your ground” laws, but the law came into play during the trial anyway: The judge was required by the law’s provisions to inform the jurors that Zimmerman had no duty to retreat from the confrontation and that he could use deadly force if he reasonably believed it was necessary to defend himself.
This week, the NRA and state lawmakers behind the “stand your ground” legislation challenged Sheriff Gualtieri’s interpretation of the law in the McGlockton case.
“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,” wrote Marion Hammer, Tallahassee’s NRA lobbyist, in a statement to Politico.
Hammer added that the law does not say that someone can sue a sheriff for making an arrest when there is probable cause.
Dennis Baxley, a Republican state senator who sponsored the 2005 “stand your ground” laws when he was in the Florida House, also objected to Gualtieri’s reading of the legislation as a “subjective standard.” Rather, Baxley explained to Politico, the law uses a “reasonable-person standard. It’s not that you were just afraid.” State Sen. Rob Bradley, who sponsored the 2017 legislation, came to the same conclusion as Baxter. “This idea that Florida law is concerned about the subjective perceptions of a shooter is wrong,” he told Politico.
Despite the mounting criticisms from the victim’s family, Democratic state lawmakers, civil rights organizations, and now gun-rights advocates, Gualtieri has remained steadfast in his decision to let the shooter go. In a lengthy press conference on Tuesday, Gualtieri insisted, “I didn’t get it wrong.”