Guns don't kill people, popcorn does

Guns don't kill people, popcorn does (LA Times/David Horsey / January 21, 2014)

Guns don't kill people, popcorn kills people. Or maybe it's texting. Or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time with some fool who thinks he needs to take a gun to the movies.

Each and every day it is possible to scan the news from across America and find an example of human stupidity turned lethal by the presence of a gun. This week's top horror is the shooting of a father out on a kid-free date with his wife who was gunned down by an idiot with a pistol in his pocket.

Except he wasn't really an idiot.

Gun rights fanatics (these days there are few who are not fanatics) insist that only a few poorly trained, mentally unstable or criminally inclined gun owners give all the millions of God-fearing, Constitution-defending firearms enthusiasts a bad name. But can anyone think of a person more well-trained and responsible than a retired police captain, SWAT team leader and security guard?

That's Curtis Reeves, 71, who left the Tampa police force with a distinguished record and now finds himself facing life in prison for shooting and killing Chad Oulson in a movie theater in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Mr. Reeves and Mr. Oulson were both at the theater with their wives for a matinee showing of "Lone Survivor," a new film about a military mission in Afghanistan gone bad. Their afternoon at the movies went bad during the previews when Mr. Reeves became annoyed that the fellow in the row in front of him was texting during the previews. The texting guy was Mr. Oulson who was checking in with the babysitter caring for his three-year-old daughter.

According to the police report, Mr. Reeves went out to the lobby to complain to the theater manager when Mr. Oulson failed to cease texting. When Mr. Reeves came back, he again told Mr. Oulson to stop. Apparently heated words were exchanged, Mr. Oulson threw popcorn and Mr. Reeves pulled out his gun and pulled the trigger.

Yes, Mr. Oulson probably should have been more considerate. He should have gone out to the lobby himself to trade messages with the babysitter. And, heaven knows, he should not have thrown popcorn. But did he deserve to die?

Mr. Reeves said he felt threatened. I suspect he just felt the weight of that weapon in his pocket. As a friend of mine in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office told me, the presence of a gun, time and again, turns a hot situation lethal. Human beings get stupid. Angry words are spoken. Sometimes something gets thrown -- whether popcorn or fists. But usually nobody dies unless there is a weapon.

Curtis Reeves thought he would be protected by carrying a gun. Instead, he killed somebody's father and husband for no good reason and he, a respected man of the law, may spend the rest of his life in prison.

Guns may not kill people, but people who think they need to carry guns too often find themselves killing other people in the most wasteful, needless, pointless ways.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go tolatimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.