To understand just how loony the pro-gun forces are in this state, all you have to do is juxtapose three stories from today’s headlines: The fatal shooting by a retired police officer of a 43-year-old first-time father in a movie theater; the opening statements in the Jacksonville trial of a man who fired eight shots into a car, killing a teenaged boy; and the recommendation by a committee of the Florida House that would penalize insurance companies for charging gun owners higher premiums.
During a bail hearing for Curtis Reeves, the movie theatre shooter (bail was ultimately denied), a witness testified that as his victim, Chad Oulson, lay dying, Reeves’s wife turned to her husband and said, “That was no cause to shoot anyone.” No indeed—the provocation, a squabble over Oulson’s sending a text message during the previews, was on par with the dispute that led to the shooting in the Jacksonville case. In that incident, 47-year-old Michael Dunn, taking exception to the loud music emanating from a car parked next to his, decided the best course of action was to fire indiscriminately into the offending vehicle. His bullets killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn claims he saw a gun in the car, but the only one that appears to have been present at the scene was his.
People, life can be hard. Life can be frustrating, aggravating and, sometimes, overwhelming. In the course of a day, people can really get under your skin. Maybe your neighbor’s son likes to pound away on his drum set at 2 in the morning. Maybe the woman in the car ahead of you is poking along while you’re late for a dentist appointment. Maybe, as happened with a fatal shooting in Flagler Beach two years ago, you are fed up with your neighbor complaining about your barking dogs. And as those of us who are in the second half of life can attest, the days can be full of little aches and pains that, sometimes, can become major aches and pains.
Curtis Reeves, apparently, is one of those achy senior citizens. Media reports have noted that Reeves, who is 71, has arthritis and bursitis, and suffers from some of the other ailments that accompany old age. Chronic pain can make you cranky. What it should not do is give you an excuse to fire a bullet point-blank into an unarmed man’s chest. As for Michael Dunn, it will be left to a jury of his peers to ponder the temperament of a man who started an argument over loud music and ended it with a fusillade of bullets. In his case, his wife was not present to tell him “that was no cause to shoot anyone.”
The NRA hates this particular statistic, but it is irrefutable: If you own a gun, the chances that it will be used to properly defend yourself or your family are minuscule compared with the likelihood that it will be used to end the life of an innocent person. So why shouldn’t insurance companies compute the odds and charge gun owners for their decision to keep a deadly weapon close at hand? If you own a 625-horsepower Corvette, you will pay a much steeper premium than the fellow who drives a Camry.
I am not aware of any Florida legislators who are offended by that, and automobiles, while they can kill, are not intended to be instruments of death. The decision to keep an instrument of death handy makes you a bad risk—not only for insurance companies, but for those of us who feel we have a right to go to the movies, the mall, or sit in our own backyard without having to worry about a gun owner whose bursitis is acting up or who is simply having a bad day.
Flagler Beach’s Paul Miller is paying for the murder of his neighbor with a sentence that will probably see him dying in prison. Curtis Reeves may encounter the same fate. Michael Dunn’s jury might believe his assertion that he saw a gun, but they could also convict him of first-degree murder, effectively ending whatever life he was enjoying before his temper got the better of him.
It’s time for our elected officials to stop being lapdogs for the gun lobby, and to send the message that guns are not the answer to life’s various disputes. People walking around and driving around with firearms make the world a more dangerous place for the great majority of us who understand that a momentary flash of anger shouldn’t mean the end of someone’s life, and the ruination of the lives of all those left behind.
Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.