Gun justice: A Florida texter gets the death penalty

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    (Photo via ShutterStock)

    This week’s Second Amendment Well-Regulated Militia Award goes to the pistol packin’ citizen who blew away a guy at a Florida movie theater, for the sin of texting his toddler’s daycare provider.

    That’s how things go in gun-crazed America; anyone with a chip on his shoulder and a man-piece in his pocket can act as judge, jury, and executioner. Curtis Reeves, 71 years old and packing a .380 caliber gun, had a beef about filmgoers who fiddled with their cells, and so, during the movie trailers on Monday afternoon, he rebuked 43-year-old dad Chad Oulson, an argument ensued – and within minutes Oulson was dead.

    Granted, most of us get annoyed when a filmgoer texts – even for legitimate parenting purposes – but it does seem a tad out of scale to summarily ship that miscreant to the great beyond. Or maybe I’m just not sufficiently hip to the ethos of gun justice.

    But seriously, folks. Before the next inevitable gun atrocity hits the news, let’s spend a few minutes on this one because it’s a classic. Reeves has rightfully been charged with second-degree murder, but his lawyer thinks that’s very unfair. On Tuesday, the lawyer told the judge that Oulson, the dead guy, had actually been the “aggressor.” The lawyer said, “The alleged victim attacked (Reeves). At that point in time, he has every right to defend himself.”

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    Does that argument ring a bell? You bet. It’s Stand Your Ground, the NRA-inspired Florida law which says that a person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably thinks he’s in danger of death or great bodily harm. Reeves’ lawyer didn’t specifically mention Stand Your Ground, only its provisions. He said that Oulson had hurled “an unknown object” at Reeves, who duly felt threatened, and this standoff “resulted in gunfire.”

    The unknown object was popcorn.

    Unless you believe that artifical butter is as lethal as a bullet, you might wonder why in heck Reeves saw fit to pack heat during a movie matinee. Charles Cummings, an ex-Marine who witnessed the shooting and wound up with Oulson’s blood on his clothes, says, “I can’t believe people would bring a pistol, a gun, to a movie…and shoot one another over popcorn, over a cellphone.”

    Why did Reeves bring his gun, ignoring the theatre management’s posted signs banning guns on the premises? Because he could. He had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. And thanks to the gun-fetish lobby, concealed-carry has become a hot trend; over the past 20 years, the number of permits nationwide has increased eight-fold, from 1 million to 8 million. So it should hardly be a surprise when some gun-toters, supposedly carrying for self-defense, wind up misusing their weapons for self-empowerment. Victims like Oulson are the collateral damage.

    The nonpartisan Violence Policy Center says in its data base that, besides Coulson, at least 554 people, including 14 law enforcement officers, have been killed in 33 states since May ’07 in non-self defense incidents involving citizens who legally packed concealed guns. A center official tells the Christian Science Monitor: “There are a lot of people dead today who would be alive but for (a gun toter) who gets angry and accelerates an argument to a homicide. It’s very clear that carrying a concealed weapon creates a mindset among some people that ‘I’ve got a gun, the state sanctions it, therefore I have a right to use it in public.”

    The good news is that Reeves – a retired cop, who by dint of his training should’ve known about responsible gun use – was denied bail on Tuesday. Basically, the judge didn’t buy the defense lawyer’s Stand Your Ground nonsense. The judge said, “An ‘unknown object’ does not equal taking out a gun ….It doesn’t warrant taking out a gun and firing it at someone’s chest.”

    But rest assured, Reeves won’t be the last citizen administrator of gun justice. Concealed-carry laws and Stand Your Ground laws essentially deputize people to police their little worlds and feel justified in doing so. As John Timoney, the former Philadelphia police commissioner and former Miami police chief, presciently warned in 2012 about the contemporary ethos, “Trying to control shootings by members of a well-trained and disciplined police department is a daunting enough task. Laws like ‘stand your ground’ give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster.”

    Curtis Reeves may well be held accountable, and that would be nice. But Chad Oulson’s toddler still won’t have a father.


    Meanwhile, on the Benghazi front:

    A new bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report disputes the rabid right’s claim that the attacks were the result of a well-coordinated al Qaeda plot (“It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control…the attacks were likely put together in short order’), and it eviscerates the rabid right’s belief that the Obama team whiffed on al Qaeda and covered it up (“There were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to ‘cover-up’ facts or make alterations for political purposes”).

    If facts mattered, there would be no joy today in Trollville. But durable delusions never die.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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