Throw the book at Florida man who used a rifle to settle a parking dispute

This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.

Florida is full of guns. Most are used by responsible people in responsible ways. But when they aren’t, when someone abuses the right to bear arms and jeopardizes public safety, the consequences must be severe. That’s why we were pleased to see that a Clearwater man faces a felony charge for wielding a rifle during a parking dispute.

Let’s repeat that just so it doesn’t get lost: This potentially lethal episode was about parking, something most of us witness thousands of times during our adult lives without pulling a gun. It’s hard to think of a good reason to threaten someone with a rifle for something solely related to parking. Someone steals your spot at the mall? At the. Does a driver dings your bumper while pulling out? Still no. A guy in a jacked-up truck with an obnoxious muffler flips you the bird after you take 10 seconds to parallel park? Not even close.

Guns aren’t ever the remedy to a petty dispute, no matter how damned aggrieved some snowflake with a short fuse feels. We all get ticked off from time to time, but most of us know how to control our worst impulses. We know that guns should be used as a last resort, not a prop to wield willy-nilly during some irrational vigilante fantasy.

That brings us to David H. Berry. He’s 44 years old. In other words, he old enough to know better. He’s not some teenager with restricted brain function and raging hormones. He’s a middle-age man. What set him off? Police say a lawn guy working in Berry’s Clearwater neighborhood on July 7 partially blocked Berry’s driveway with his equipment trailer. Images taken from a neighbor’s security camera appear to indicate that the gate from the trailer was only slightly in front of Berry’s driveway and that there was room for Berry to get his truck out of the driveway. Nonetheless, Berry was so incensed that he came out yelling. He then went to his truck, grabbed his semi-automatic rifle and pointed it at the lawn guy, twice threatening to shoot him, according to video from the scene and witness statements taken by the police.

It’s sad that this ever needs to be said, but if your coping skills are so stunted that a working man slightly blocking your driveway with his trailer sends you into a violent rage, you shouldn’t own a rifle. Instead, spend the money on an anger management course. Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter nailed it in the media release when he said: “If the suspect had a problem with how someone was parking, he should have called the police and let us handle it. You don’t arm yourself with an assault rifle and threaten someone over something so trivial.”

Berry, who was arrested Friday after an investigation, faces one count of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony. Court records show that Berry has been convicted of several misdemeanor charges since the mid-1990s, including for battery and retail theft. He has also faced at least three felony cases, though all of those were later lowered to misdemeanors. He also has more than 20 traffic violations, including the DUI.

Berry is out on bail, though authorities used the state’s risk protection law to take his guns away temporarily. If convicted of a felony, he will lose his right to possess guns. That sounds about right, given his previous convictions and his out-of-control behavior. No one is allowed to point a gun at someone because they are having a bad day, their feelings got hurt or a guy mowing lawns temporarily blocked their driveway. We support responsible gun ownership, but someone’s right to bear arms should end if someone with Berry’s criminal history uses a rifle to menace someone over a simple parking dispute.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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