By The Editorial Board
Posted at 12:01 AM
Democratic lawmakers in Florida entered this year’s legislative session hoping to flex a little more muscle on guns.
By one count just before the session opened, Democrats had offered more than 50 bills affecting gun ownership, possession, or sales. And the New Zealand government’s lightning-quick crackdown on firearms following the massacre in Christchurch likely inspired new hope among them that headway could be made on gun control to slow what many perceive to be an epidemic of gun violence.
But in recent weeks some Polk County cases have shown that, despite the good intentions that supposedly accompany such legislation, denying the right of self-defense via guns is ill-advised.
In November, Circuit Judge Jalal Harb dismissed a manslaughter charge against Deryke Jamal Dennard of Lake Alfred. Dennard shot and killed Jonathan Lee Jordan of Haines City in 2016 after Jordan reportedly punched him the face a couple of times and threatened him in a confrontation at a ballfield. Judge Harb noted in his ruling that some of the threats issued by Jordan and some associates referenced shooting Dennard. Harb determined that Dennard, who did not have a criminal history, was legitimately fearful of being harmed, if not killed, and thus entitled to have the charge dropped.
Last month Joshua Jay Pacheco of Winter Haven shot and killed Julian Garcia in a convenience store parking lot during a fight. Sheriff Grady Judd told the media that surveillance camera video showed Garcia, an Apopka resident with a lengthy criminal record, chased down and attacked Pacheco, who had been standing alone and tried to flee from him. During the brawl, Pacheco produced a gun and shot Garcia, who died later. Judd said a preliminary review of the case indicated Pacheco might have “a legitimate stand-your-ground case, in that he was only protecting himself from a vicious assault.” Pacheco turned himself in and remained in jail as of Wednesday. As a convicted felon, for habitually driving without a license, he faces a charge for unlawful gun possession. But jail records indicate he has not yet been charged with homicide in Garcia’s death.
This week Haines City police Chief Jim Elensky announced that Devonte Duga would not be charged with murder in the slaying of Furious Bernard Shell on Sunday outside a supermarket. According to police, Shell allegedly stole a customer’s wallet and wound up in an argument with Duga about the incident after being confronted by both the customer and an employee. While arguing with Duga outside the store, Shell flashed a pistol and threatened to kill Duga. When Duga tried to go back in the store, Shell blocked him, pushed him and then hit him in the head twice with the gun. During an ensuing struggle for the gun, Duga wrested the pistol from Shell and shot him.
It is quite possible that prosecutors in Bartow still may bring homicide charges against both Pacheco and Duga based on additional or new evidence. We saw an example of such a reversal last year, after prosecutors in Pinellas County overruled the Sheriff’s Office’s controversial decision to not file charges against a man who had shot and killed a convenience store patron in Clearwater.
Yet the issue here is that policymakers who do not like guns and want to somehow wish them out of existence often fail to look at situations from the perspective of people in life-or-death situations like Dennard, Pacheco and Duga.
Obviously all of us want to live in a violence-free society. And no one desires outcomes such as we saw in the examples above. But that’s not always the world we inhabit.
Ironically, it can be argued that Florida and America in general have grown safer in recent decades because we have loosened restrictions on gun ownership and possession. And we should understand that those most adversely affected by tighter gun restrictions are law-abiding residents in poor or predominantly minority neighborhoods.
We don’t fault the intentions of the lawmakers who have proposed and advocate for those 50-plus gun bills in Tallahassee. But we encourage them to consider, for just a moment, what it might be like to have been Deryke Dennard, Joshua Pacheco, or Devonte Duga, and not been able to access a gun when your life was on the line.