HOW LONG WILL PEOPLE STAND FOR
‘STAND YOUR GROUND’?
Many citizens of the United States — and many people watching them from around the world — are shaking their head in disbelief and dismay in the aftermath of the shooting to death of a 43-year-old man in a Florida movie theatre by a former police captain who says he fired the shot because he was afraid he was going to be attacked.
The story of this sad episode has made headlines across the globe and received thousands upon thousands of ‘opens’ on the Internet as people search their hearts to try to figure out why a person trained in the disciplines of law enforcement would fire a gun at another man’s chest at point-blank range after the first man threw a bag of popcorn in his face.
The incident occurred on Jan. 13 at a moviehouse in Pasco County, Florida where, according to various news reports, 71-year-old retired Tampa Bay police captain Curtis Reeves became annoyed when a man in the row of seats in front of him, Chad Oulson, began using his cellphone to tap out a text message with his 2-year-old daughter’s babysitter while the previews were playing before the movie started.
Mr. Reeves asked Mr. Oulson to stop texting, but Mr. Oulson ignored him. According to witnesses quoted in news reports and in the police report filed by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Dept., the two began arguing. Mr. Reeves then left the theatre, apparently to find a management employee.
According to the sheriff’s report, the manager was busy with another customer, and Mr. Reeves returned to his seat.
When Mr. Reeves returned, Mr. Oulson is said to have stood up and asked him if he had gone to management to tell on him. The two exchanged angry words again, and Mr. Oulson threw a bag of popcorn he was holding at Mr. Reeves, the bag apparently hitting Mr. Reeves in the face.
At this point, Mr. Reeves is alleged to have reached into his pants pocket, taken out a .380-caliber pistol, and shot Mr. Oulson point-blank in the chest, the bullet passing through the hand of Mr. Oulson’s wife, Nichole, who was trying to pull her husband away.
Mrs. Oulson’s injury was not life threatening, but her husband was severely injured, stumbled across the movie theatre aisle, fell into the lap of a moviegoer and his grown son, and died after being taken to the hospital. His last words were, “I can’t believe I got shot.”
In court the following day, the attorney for Mr. Reeves, Richard Escobar, portrayed Mr. Reeves as the victim in the incident, saying that Mr. Oulson was the “aggressor.” He said Mr. Reeves, after being hit in the face “with some object” that he could not identify, was afraid he was going to be attacked by Mr. Oulson, and so he pulled his gun — which he had a license to carry — and shot in self-defense, fearing for his safety.
Circuit Court Judge Lynn Tepper did not agree that the evidence gathered by the sheriff’s department and the testimony of witnesses showed Mr. Oulson to be the clear aggressor, and ordered Mr. Reeves not to be released on his own recognizance, as his attorney had requested, but remanded into custody on a charge of second-degree murder.
The whole case has brought to public discussion once again the question of gun violence in America, and in particular has given the country and the world another look at the State of Florida’s now famous Stand Your Ground law, which states that in the case of a reasonable presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm, a person is not required to retreat, but may stand their ground, and use deadly force, if necessary, to do so.
It is not clear if Mr. Reeves and his attorney will seek to use the law as a defense in this case. Law enforcement officers on the scene after the shooting have said to the media that the facts they have gathered do not appear to support its use in this instance.
Witnesses say that no punches were thrown, nor attempted to be thrown, by either of the men, and that their exchange was limited to raised voices, with both men standing up, and then the throwing of the popcorn — until Mr. Reeves allegedly pulled out his pistol and shot Mr. Oulson in the chest from a few feet away.
Many are asking, if Mr. Reeves is a retired police captain, whether he would not have been trained in recognizing when the shooting of another person was absolutely necessary. Observers also wonder why, if he really felt Mr. Oulson was about to climb over the row of seats between them and launch a physical attack, Mr. Reeves did not simply take out his gun and tell Mr. Oulson, “not a step further.”
But the larger question before the American public is, how long will citizens of the United States continue to put up with lax gun laws, easy availability of weapons (including rapid-fire assault weapons), and laws that threaten to turn the country back into a Wild West version of itself, where most men openly pack a side-shooter and where the motto of the day is: “Smile when you say that, brother.”
People across the U.S. are beginning to ask: Is this what civilization is all about?