The Florida Movie Shooting: Why Back Down if You Have A Gun?

This past Monday, a retired, 71 year-old Tampa policeman named Curtis Reeves, shot and killed another, younger man in a movie theater evidently because his victim would not stop texting during the Coming Attractions and in the argument which then ensued, hurled an “unknown object” at the cop which may have been deadly weapon known as a bag of popcorn. The victim, Chad Oulson, was sitting in the row in front of Reeves and was not making any effort to climb over the seat but a well-aimed bag of popcorn can, as is well known, be a dangerous thing.

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According to the FBI, there were  260 justifiable homicides committed by civilians in 2011, of which guns were used 75% of the time.  There were also 12,664 murders in 2011, of which roughly 8,800 were committed with guns.  Of the 12,664 felony homicides, about half started as arguments and then things got out of control.  Assuming that the ratio of murders to gun use stayed constant, between 3,000 and 4,000 gun murders occurred in 2011 that were no different from what happened in a Florida movie theater; a little yelling back and forth followed by a few fuck you’s, and then out comes the gun.

In this recent case, the shooter first complained to the theater management but nothing was done.  But the point is he knew there were other options which suddenly turned into non-options as the argument got out of hand.  The question that needs to be asked is what would Reeves had done if he hadn’t been armed with a gun?  His victim was younger, bigger and stronger.  Without a gun Reeves would have had no choice but to avoid a confrontation by walking away from the scene.

The next time that Wayne LaPierre or John Lott go on television to tell us how unsafe we are in gun-free zones, someone should ask them what they would have done had they been inside the theater where this tragic event took place. Would they have walked over during the argument and intervened? Would they have waited until Reeves pulled his weapon and then tried to shoot him down just in case the shooting of Oulson was the beginning of a rampage that had to be brought to an end?  I’m not asking these questions to be silly.  I’m asking them because this is what really happens when someone believes they can protect everyone around them because they are carrying a gun.

The problem with thinking of guns as defensive weapons is that the argument cuts both ways.  The guy who walks around carrying a gun may think he’s protecting himself and others against crime, but he also knows that if he gets into an argument he doesn’t have to back down. I find it interesting that proponents of defensive gun use cite all kinds of public surveys in which people are asked whether the fact that they were carrying a gun kept a crime from taking place.  But I haven’t seen any surveys where they interview guys in prison who pulled out a gun and shot someone because it was the “only” way they could settle an argument on favorable terms.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong.  Maybe when it comes out that the bag of popcorn could have caused serious or fatal damage to Reeves that he’ll be lionized by the NRA as another ‘good guy with a gun.’  And maybe the people all over America who sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to George Zimmerman can now send their hard-earned money to Curtis Reeves because he really didn’t so anything wrong.

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