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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Even though there is steadily accumulating evidence of the futility of criticizing the gun culture, certain episodes prod me to go there. One of those occurred last week, when an unarmed man was shot dead after assaulting a fellow movie patron with, ah, popcorn.

This particular incident wasn’t one of those that dominate newscasts, that summon President Obama to a press conference, that propel some members of Congress to insist on tighter gun control laws. It didn’t pack the awful, gut-wrenching punch of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, in which 20 young children and six adults were gunned down by a psychopath.

The power of this recent episode lies in its more mundane nature: Person with gun gets angry, loses control and shoots an unarmed person. It’s a more common occurrence than gun advocates care to admit.

And it contradicts several of the gun lobby’s central arguments because it demonstrates that the proximity of firearms can change circumstances. It undermines that dumb and overused cliché, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” That may be true, but people are much more apt to kill when they have a gun.

As it happens, this shooting occurred in Florida, where an ill-considered “Stand Your Ground” law has prompted many a trigger-happy bully to pull a gun and shoot a stranger (or, sometimes, an acquaintance). Curtis Reeves, 71, has been charged with second-degree homicide in the death of Chad Oulson, 43, on Jan. 13, according to the Tampa Tribune.

The newspaper reported that Reeves got angry because Oulson, who was sitting in front of him, was using his cellphone during previews before the film Lone Survivor started. Reeves, after asking him several times to stop, went into the lobby to complain to a theater employee about Oulson — who was apparently communicating with his child’s babysitter.

When Reeves returned, the two again exchanged words, and Oulson reportedly showered Reeves with popcorn. Reeves drew a .380-caliber handgun and shot Oulson in the chest. Oulson’s wife was wounded because she reached for her husband as the shot was fired, the Tribune said.

You know how the gun lobby always insists that the antidote to gun violence is to allow more properly trained citizens to carry guns everywhere — inside nightclubs and schools and churches? Well, Reeves could hardly be better trained in the use of firearms. He’s a retired Tampa police captain and a former security officer for Busch Gardens.