The Corner

The Florida Movie Theater Shooting and Stand Your Ground

A horrible story from yesterday:

A retired police officer allegedly shot two people, one fatally, during a cell phone dispute inside a Florida movie theater Monday, authorities said.

The dispute began around 1:30 p.m. at a theater in Wesley Chapel when Curtis Reeves Jr., 71, told 43-year-old Chad Oulson to stop texting during a showing of “Lone Survivor,” Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said. When Oulson refused, Reeves alerted the theater staff, which escalated the confrontation.

At that point Reeves allegedly pulled out a gun and shot Oulson, authorities said. Oulson’s wife, Nicole, put her hand in front of her husband in an effort to protect him and was injured.

Chad Oulson later died from the gunshot.

Sadly, along with the rightful expressions of horror and surprise, I have started to see the usual murmurs about the supposed evils of both Stand Your Ground and of concealed carry — neither of which have anything to do with this case. For a start, whatever the merits and demerits of the Stand Your Ground provision – and I’m reasonably strongly in favor – what it absolutely does not do is allow one to start a fight and then to use deadly force in one’s defense. As I found last year when looking into the Trayvon Martin case:

In almost every state, if and when an individual enters into an altercation with the deliberate intention of provoking the other party into threatening him with death or injury, they lose the right to claim that they were acting in self-defense. Pretty much every Stand Your Ground system thus takes into account the motivations of someone who might look for an excuse to start a potentially lethal fight, or even of someone who is likely to provoke another as the byproduct of latent racial animosity.

This includes Florida, which per the Huffington Post’s Professor Alafair Burke,

follows traditional self-defense limitations by prohibiting “initial aggressors” from using force provoked by their own conduct. A defendant in Florida cannot claim self-defense if he “initially provokes the use of force” against himself . . . 

Indeed, even if one could do this, the question of who was the initial aggressor doesn’t even need to be considered in this case. Why? Well, because authorities quite rightly decided that the perpetrator couldn’t claim to have felt threatened and thus that Stand Your Ground was an irrelevance. As Fox reported:

Nocco said his detectives considered if the case qualified under the state’s controversial “stand your ground law,” which permits residents to employ deadly force if they fear imminent danger, but decided the criteria did not apply, MyFoxTampaBay.com reported.

Despite the tendency of media outlets faithfully to append the word to all such discussions, the law isn’t quite as “controversial” as we are led to believe. It was the norm for most of American history, and, after a brief hiatus in which crime spiked to terrifying levels, it returned to the vast majority of the states without much fanfare. It enjoys strong support today. I suspect that one of the reasons that Stand Your Ground has come under fire in recent years is that it is inextricable from the changed attitudes that have led to the liberalization of gun laws over the last 25 years. Critics know that they have lost the argument that an armed population will lead to more gun violence and they know that Americans no longer feel that it is in their interests to be disarmed, so they’re going after this instead. 

As far as concealed carry goes, all I can say is that the length to which the gun-control crowd will go to blame private gun owners continues to know no bounds. Per Fox, the suspect here is a retired police officer:

Reeves, a 71-year-old retired Tampa police officer, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. A 2005 Tampa Bay Times article also described him as a former director of security for Busch Gardens.

Nevertheless, a blogger on the Daily Kos website saw fit to ask, “Aren’t police officers supposed to be those ‘responsible gun owners’ we hear so many gun advocates talk about?”

Not really, no. There are an awful lot of admirable police officers, of course. But the “responsible gun owners” you hear gun advocates talk about are, in fact, private citizens. It is typically the Left that argues that “only cops should have guns” and the Right that points out that police officers are no more capable of behaving responsibly with firearms than are members of the public. Besides, whether they are good, bad, or ugly, cops do not need to be defended by advocates of the right to keep and bear arms because they are already subject to special treatment. Abroad, where there are gun bans in force, they generally carry weapons regardless. And in America, unlike private citizens who are obliged to acquire licenses and permits in their home state (and are thus at the mercy of jurisdictions that make this difficult), off-duty and retired officers are protected by a special provision in federal law that allows them to carry a concealed firearm anywhere in the country regardless of the local rules. Unless the Daily Kos blogger’s position is that cop should be disarmed — and he says “police officers,” not “former police officers, note — then it’s difficult to work out what he’s getting at.

This was a nasty enough incident as it is. Best not to sully it further with lies.

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