Friday, February 23, 2018
Public safety

Shooting at the movies: Our new normal

It should have been a mundane Monday afternoon at the movies, people settling in their seats for a film about Navy SEALs. It should have been that everyday escape into familiar dimmed lights and popcorn smells, air-conditioned and safe, with Raisinets.

It couldn't have been more normal, more everyday-in-America.

A man there to see Lone Survivor with his son — a movie title lost on no one afterward — would later say two guys got into an argument during the previews. The younger was texting. The older wanted him to stop. Older guy complained to management. At some point, popcorn flew.

And how everyday-America is that, too — technology and common courtesy, butting heads?

It might have ended in a few harsh words, a punch, somebody asked to leave. Conan O'Brien could have made late-night fun of two Florida guys duking it out at the movies over texting.

Except there was a gun.

Now a 43-year-old husband and father is pointlessly dead, a 71-year-old respected retired cop charged with second-degree murder.

Because, even in a place as benign as your local movie theater, there was a gun.

The words are grim deja vu. Three years ago and one county south, a man named Trevor Dooley got in a truly stupid dispute at a park over whether a kid was allowed to skateboard there. A neighbor disagreed. It might have been fisticuffs at worst, but for the gun tucked in Dooley's pants.

Now 73, he is out on bail appealing a manslaughter conviction and eight-year prison sentence. The little girl who was playing basketball with her dad at the park that day is growing up without him.

Where isn't there a gun anymore? Not far away, the University of South Florida was recently forced to let students keep guns in their cars because of an appeals court ruling. We are gun-mad, with no plans to change. If 20 schoolchildren shot dead in Connecticut aren't enough to make us look hard at our gun culture, can anything? The New York Times reports that in the year since the elementary school massacre, 109 state gun bills became law, 70 of which loosened gun restrictions.

In the Wesley Chapel movie shooting, I'm betting on a "stand your ground" defense based on our infamous law that says you have no obligation to retreat if you feel justifiably threatened. Given that the weapon apparently was popcorn, such a defense would have to do with sudden moves in a dark theater. And maybe that the man with the gun, Curtis Reeves Jr., had impressive law enforcement experience with firearms and tense SWAT situations.

And I'm guessing there won't be nearly as much discussion about why in the world a gun was there in the first place.

Do we even care about these stories anymore? By Tuesday morning, a local radio wag was referring to Reeves as "Old Man Shoots-A-Lot." Ha.

Still, it made us news right up to CNN. "It was a movie theater," says Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. "Those are places we automatically assume to be safe." Or, not.

One of the witnesses, the former Marine there to catch an afternoon film with his son, said this: "I can't believe anybody would bring a gun to a movie." Believe it. Turns out it's who we are.

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