Finding Solutions to Gun Violence: After Son's Murder, Parents Push for Background Checks and Against 'Stand Your Ground' Laws

Jordan's story is an inspiration to act to prevent future deaths like their son's, his parents tell PEOPLE

Photo: HBO

The murder of Jordan Davis turned his parents into accidental activists.

Nine months after the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin put a spotlight on Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, Davis, 17, another black teenager, was killed in the parking lot of a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station after words exchanged over loud rap music.

The accused, Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man, said he felt threatened after asking Davis and his friends to turn down what Dunn described as “thug music,” according to testimony from Dunn’s fiancée.

Dunn told police he believed he saw a gun pointed his way. That’s when he reached into his vehicle’s glove box for his pistol and fired 10 shots. Three struck Davis through the door of the SUV where the teen sat with three friends – all of them unarmed.

The encounter and its aftermath are revisited in the award-winning documentary 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets, which debuts on HBO at 9 p.m. on Monday, the third anniversary of Jordan’s death.

But for parents Ron Davis and Lucy McBath, who hope to curb “Stand Your Ground” protections and also urge tougher background checks on gun buyers, Jordan’s story is an inspiration to act to prevent future deaths like their son’s.

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“I don’t want to take your guns away,” Davis, 62, a retired sales agent for Delta Air Lines, tells PEOPLE. “I want to make sure that the ones who have them should have them, and the ones that shouldn’t have them don’t.”

Adds McBath, 55, a retired Delta flight attendant: “Ninety percent of Americans agree we’ve got to do something about gun culture. It’s a cultural shift, just like we’ve done with the tobacco industry and drunk driving. Any time you begin to start changing these cultures, the policy changes come right on the heels.”

And she points to success: A proposed expansion of Florida’s stand-your-ground measure recently failed. New laws in Colorado, Washington and Oregon strengthen background checks to prevent gun sales to convicted felons. Legislation passed in South Carolina, Wisconsin and Louisiana is meant to deny guns to convicted domestic abusers.

“The gun lobby has been expanding these gun laws across the country for the last 20 years,” says McBath, a national spokesperson for the allied groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “We’re now having to catch up.”

The Danger of Implicit Bias

Through a Greek chorus of talk-radio voices, plus recorded phone calls from jail by the shooter Dunn – who was convicted, after an initial mistrial, of Jordan’s murder and sentenced to life in prison – the documentary explores the perceived racial bias behind the shooting.

But as part of her broader view, McBath questions vague stand-your-ground defenses that allow armed individuals to claim they were at risk.

While conceding the Second Amendment right to protect home or territory, she says, “the law allows them and empowers them to use the guns based upon perceptions of a threats, and oftentimes it’s not even a credible threat. There’s no definition of what ‘territory’ is. The law has been expanded to automatically assume that the shooter is justified.”

“That’s very, very dangerous. When the victim is dead, the victim can’t refute anything the shooter has said. You’re giving the shooter civil and criminal immunity. The fact that our laws have been so watered down that people are allowed to interpret them any way they want is extremely dangerous.”

“At the very essence of the interaction between Michael Dunn and Jordan, it really wasn’t about loud music,” she says. “It was really about a man’s inability to see four young black men as valuable human beings. It was really about implicit bias. It was really about gun violence interwoven into that implicit bias.”

Says Jordan’s father Ron Davis: “Guns are just flying off the shelves. The gun manufacturers are making trillions of dollars off the fear of people that they have to arm themselves.”

“We need to know who has the guns and whether it’s legal for them to have the guns. I do not want to take their guns away,” he repeats. “I want to make that clear. But I want to make sure that if you have a gun, you have been vetted.”

Drawing a stronger line between responsible and irresponsible gun owners will make a difference, both parents say.

In the film, Jordan’s dad recalls receiving a text from the father of Trayvon Martin stating, “I just want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in.” Martin – whose shooter, George Zimmerman, also claimed self-defense and was acquitted – had been the topic of conversation between Jordan and his dad.

“We hope the film is a blueprint for other families that did not receive justice,” Davis says. His son “identified with another 17-year-old trying to live his life. He just kept saying, ‘Dad, he didn’t have a chance to go to high school, a chance to go to college, a chance to get married, have children.’ He was upset that this young man didn’t have a chance to do that.”

“Little did he know that seven, eight months later, he wasn’t going to have the chance to do that, either.”

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