Monday, December 11, 2017
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: What death over texting says about us

It is a cruel irony that as authorities say retired Tampa police Capt. Curtis Reeves Jr. was drawing a bead on Chad Oulson for the crime of texting in the Wesley Chapel Cobb Grove 16 movie theaters, the feature film about to start was Lone Survivor.

The movie is based on a real-life incident in which a team of Navy SEALs are sent on a mission to find an Afghan Taliban leader. But the clandestine patrol goes awry when the SEALs stumble on a group of mountain herders. The SEALs are confronted with an ethical dilemma: Should they kill the herders and protect the integrity of the mission, or spare the Afghans' lives knowing the herders will surely betray their presence to the enemy?

The decision to do the morally right thing and release the herders eventually results in deadly consequences for the SEAL unit.

So a patron attending a screening of a film about honor, duty and courage shot a man to death all over a texting argument. So much for the National Rifle Association's claim that "good guys with guns" make society safer.

Until about 1 p.m. Monday, Reeves, 71, was a law-abiding citizen with a long career in law enforcement and security work. Now he sits in the Pasco County jail facing a second-degree murder charge. And for what? Because he apparently had more bullets than brains.

Reeves could be counted as one of those included among Florida's 1,098,458 concealed-and-carry gun permit holders. Disputes between people, which formerly were dealt with by exchanging a few creative profanities, are now resolved with a weapon.

If a former police officer who presumably was trained in the use of a gun and diffusing stressful situations opted to kill someone over something so banal as texting in a movie theater, the thought of more than 1 million concealed and carry holders ought to be reason for concern.

Last year, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 204,288 people applied for a concealed-carry gun permit. Only 1,497 applicants were denied a permit. With the number of permits on the rise, that can only mean the probability of more movie theater violence, more road rage gunfire, more George Zimmermans emboldened with a false sense of bravado will also escalate.

That is concerning, especially at Florida's universities, in the wake of a supremely addled lawsuit filed by a group called Florida Carry to force institutions of higher learning to permit weapons in campus housing.

Florida law sensibly prohibits guns on campus, largely because state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, thwarted a provision allowing weapons back in 2011. That was only because the daughter of a close friend to Thrasher had been killed at Florida State University after an accidental discharge of a weapon.

But a Florida Carry lawsuit against the University of North Florida paved the way to allow students to have a gun in their cars while on campus, and now the group has sued the University of Florida to permit weapons in campus housing.

This is insanity.

Universities across Florida can legally control conduct such as drinking and smoking on campus. But they can't ban weapons?

Once students start turning their dorm rooms into gun warehouses, it will only be a matter of time before someone dies as a result of an accident, or a spat over a cribbage bet, or a relationship gone sour, or grieving the loss of a football game.

How can anyone with a scintilla of common sense conclude permitting students to keep weapons in a campus residence is a good idea?

If a 43-year-old man can lose his life in a movie theater when his texting irritated another customer, it is hardly a stretch to imagine a student getting shot in his dorm room because a neighbor didn't like the music he was playing.

We know these things because when it comes to guns and Florida, the official state symbol should be an NRA campaign check.

A man is shot to death because his assailant thought he needed to carry a gun to go to the movies. What have we become here in the State of Paranoia?

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