Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Public safety

Can we please talk about this gun thing?

After two men were killed in separate shootings on the same day in May, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office didn't offer much information, just a blanket assurance.

There is "NO suspect at large and NO threat to the community," it said in a statement.

Now that the prosecutors have finally, formally declined to charge the shooters and released details of the shootings, it's clearer than ever that we need to hear about what happened, that we need to talk about it.

We have too many people who like to keep guns handy and use them to settle their disputes. We have laws, especially "stand your ground," that don't do enough to discourage this kind of thinking.

And the Sheriff's Office is wrong. It is a threat to the community, a major threat.

One victim, George Avedissian, 68, bears most of the blame for his death, at least according to the man who shot him, Joshua Harth, a tenant at Avedissian's house north of Weeki Wachee and the main witness.

Avedissian kicked on the door of Harth's room, yelling about an empty soup can left on the kitchen counter. The two men argued. Avedissian got a rifle and shot at Harth, 24.

Harth wrestled the gun away from Avedissian and shot him twice, once in the stomach and once in the back. But this clear case of justifiable homicide may not have been so clear if not for "stand your ground." Even when Harth fired that second shot, he didn't have to prove he was in fear for his life; the law presumes it.

Michael Challis also started the argument that led to his death and, like Avedissian, he had been drinking, according to blood tests.

He and his large dog walked past the Spring Hill home of Christopher Asciolla, 28, who was standing outside with his little dog. Challis, 34, yelled from the street, according to Asciolla, who then went inside with his dog. Challis walked up to the door and banged on it, which is when Asciolla and his father made a decision that is perfectly fine under "stand your ground," yet clearly caused an unnecessary death.

Instead of calling 911, they armed themselves with pistols and walked outside. Challis took the gun from the father and fired. Christopher Asciolla shot and killed Challis.

Why did we just hear these details in the last few weeks, when the prosecutor finished his reports? Why was the Sheriff's Office so quiet back in May, especially since it knew from the start the way these cases were heading, that there were "NO suspects"?

Well, it's true, autopsies and blood and ballistics tests take time. But something tells me the Sheriff's Office didn't exactly make this a rush job.

In most law enforcement agencies, there is a constant tug-of-war. Detectives on one side argue that everything that can be kept from the public is kept from them; it makes their job easier, leaves a wider margin of error. A public information officer pulls the other way, knowing that transparency looks good and that the public pays the bills and has a right to know.

In Hernando, sheriff's spokeswoman Denise Moloney doesn't pull very hard. Sheriff Al Nienhuis doesn't seem to realize that she needs to, maybe because he thinks the conservative voters here regard law enforcement more favorably than the press.

But when people are killing each other over dogs and soup cans, we need to talk.

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