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Stand your ground now means we must read the mind of an accused killer

With more than 1.9 million concealed weapons permits, including nearly a quarter-million in Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas, Florida leads the nation. The combination of that many guns and stand your ground laws has led to a massive increase in justifiable homicide cases. [ iStockphoto.com]
With more than 1.9 million concealed weapons permits, including nearly a quarter-million in Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas, Florida leads the nation. The combination of that many guns and stand your ground laws has led to a massive increase in justifiable homicide cases. [ iStockphoto.com]
Published Aug. 14, 2018

Today, the liberals are doing a victory dance.

And the conservatives are resting easier.

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has done them all a huge favor by bringing a manslaughter charge against convenience store shooter Michael Drejka.

You see, this fits the narrative both sides have been pushing for several weeks. For the left, it is a triumph over the NRA's much-dreaded stand your ground law. And for the right, it is a vindication that stand your ground isn't the get-out-of-jail-free card that it often appears to be.

The reality?

Well, that's a lot more complicated.

And that's probably the best way to explain why stand your ground is still such a mess. A local sheriff and a local prosecutor can view the same evidence and come up with completely different conclusions, even though, theoretically, they are working on the same team.

Which is why Monday's decision is merely the next chapter and not the denouement of this story. A judge still has to agree that Drejka is not entitled to immunity under stand your ground. And then a jury will have to make the same call. Personally, I think Drejka has a good chance at walking free.

Not because I think he deserves freedom, but because the statute is so squishy.

RELATED: Shooter charged with manslaughter in Clearwater stand your ground case

While a lot of laws have some element of interpretation, stand your ground is almost entirely dependent on reading the thoughts and intentions of the person on trial.

Juries are essentially told that as long as a person could have reasonably assumed they were in danger — even if the danger itself was not real — then they were justified in their use of force.

How vague is that?

A security guard with a concealed weapon permit was fatally shot five times through a bathroom door in a Miami-Dade barbershop because another man heard unrelated gunfire outside the building. Neither man was involved in the original gunfire, but earlier this month a judge said stand your ground was applicable because the shooter was reasonably scared.

A shouting match between two motorists in Vero Beach led one driver to fire between 10 and 15 shots while killing the other driver. Four of the bullets hit a nearby SUV with a 3-year-old inside, who thankfully was not harmed. The shooter was not charged because he said the other driver threatened him, and he thought the man was reaching for a gun that did not exist.

RELATED: How prosecutors decided to charge Michael Drejka, shooter in controversial stand your ground case

Still think Drejka doesn't have a case after being knocked to the ground?

Whether you would have yelled at another person over a parking space is not the point. Whether you would have been carrying a gun is not the point. Whether you would have worried you were about to have your teeth kicked in while on the ground in a parking lot is not the point.

The point is whether Drejka had reason to be scared after being attacked.

Ultimately, this is the muddle that stand your ground has wrought.

If you look at the law charitably, it has given us permission to not back down. And it has given us the freedom to be reasonably frightened.

But has it also given us the freedom to be reckless?

If so many of us are going to be carrying guns — and Florida has more gun permits than any other state — shouldn't the standard be a little bit higher?

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