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.
Reeves had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. (The chain that owns the movie house, Cobb Theaters, says its policy bans weapons.) Few gun owners would know more about gun safety. But that hardly helped Reeves control his temper.
Human beings have a limitless capacity for irrational acts, bizarre confrontations, moments of utter craziness — and that includes those of us who are usually mature, sane and rational beings. If we allow firearms everywhere, we simply increase the odds that one of those crazy moments will result in bloodshed.
The Violence Policy Center (VPC) notes that 554 other people have been killed since May 2007 by people licensed to carry concealed weapons in incidents that did not involve self-defense.
“The examples we have collected in our Concealed Carry Killers database show that with alarming regularity, individuals licensed to carry concealed weapons instigate fatal shootings that have nothing to do with self-defense,” said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand in a statement on the center’s website.
The facts notwithstanding, the National Rifle Association and its allies across the country are busy pressing friendly legislators to expand the wild frontier and permit firearms in ever more venues. The Georgia General Assembly, for one, is considering a measure to allow guns on the state’s college campuses.
That’s a recipe for more stupid confrontations like the one that has landed a retired police officer behind bars, charged with homicide, and a husband and father dead.
(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Photo: Mike Saechang via Flickr