Cary McMullen: He shouldn’t have had a gun in a movie theater

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As is usually the case in these incidents, the fatal shooting of a man at a movie theater in suburban Tampa this week involved way too many “shouldn’t haves.” Press reports based on police statements and witness interviews sketch the following scenario.

Chad Oulson and his wife were sitting in a row in front of retired Tampa police captain Curtis Reeves and his wife, waiting to see “Lone Survivor.” The previews were showing, and the movie had not yet started.

Oulson was texting the daycare center keeping his 3-year-old daughter. This bothered Reeves, who asked Oulson to stop. Oulson apparently refused, explaining who he was texting. Reeves left and reported Oulson to the manager, then returned to his seat.

More words were exchanged, and Oulson stood up. Apparently at some point, Oulson threw a bag of popcorn at Reeves, whereupon Reeves produced a .380-caliber handgun and shot Oulson in the chest as Oulson’s wife put her hand over her husband to protect him.

She was wounded. Oulson was killed. Reeves then put the gun in his lap, and an off-duty deputy disarmed him. Police have charged Reeves with second-degree murder.

So, maybe Oulson shouldn’t have been texting, but the movie had not yet started, and Reeves shouldn’t have made a big deal of it. Oulson and Reeves shouldn’t have escalated the argument. Oulson shouldn’t have thrown his bag of popcorn.

And Reeves shouldn’t have had a concealed weapon in a movie theater.

Gun-rights advocates love to say that if someone like Reeves had been in the theater in Aurora, Colo., on July 20, 2012, James Holmes wouldn’t have gotten very far in his killing spree that left 12 people dead. Reeves was not only a trained law enforcement officer, he actually trained agencies on gun safety and headed Tampa Police Department’s tactical response team. If ever there were a poster child for a responsible, trained, weapon-carrying citizen who could stop a mass killer, Reeves would be the guy.

Instead, faced with a modestly provocative situation — popcorn is not a weapon — he became a scaled-down Holmes himself. Now an average guy, a caring husband and father who merely lost his temper in a movie theater, is dead.

This case demonstrates as nothing else could that “more guns is the answer to gun violence” is not the answer. That’s because no one is perfectly capable of controlling themselves in stressful situations, and when a hair-trigger weapon is introduced into a situation with hair-trigger emotions, carnage ensues.

If a trained professional like Curtis Reeves could not restrain himself from pulling a pistol and shooting a man at close range who had done nothing more than shout at him and throw a harmless object, average citizens aren’t going to have a better record.

In fact, the papers are filled every day with tragic accounts of verbal arguments and tussling matches that resulted in people wounded, maimed or dead because one of the parties involved was enraged and had a gun nearby.

Research at Duke University has demonstrated that guns are the X-factor in situations like this. Arguments or fights that otherwise would result in nothing more than bruised feelings or a busted lip turn deadly when guns are brought into the situation.

To the Second Amendment fanatics who insist that Reeves had the right to have that pistol in that theater, I say even if he had the right — and that’s debatable — doesn’t mean he should have had it there. This is the part of the gun-rights debate that is often overlooked. There is so much debate about control versus rights that no one has addressed the question of responsibility.

I’m not against people having guns in their homes or even under limited circumstances in their cars, to say nothing of hunting weapons. But we don’t need to have them on the streets or in public gatherings or places of commerce. Just because you can have a gun doesn’t mean you should have it within reach 24/7.

So now Oulson will be buried in the ground and Reeves will be buried in prison for the rest of his life (or should be). All because a man had a gun when he didn’t need to have one – and shouldn’t have.

Guest Author


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