The American Gun Culture: Standing Your Ground Against the Deadly Use of Popcorn

(Photo: Tampa shooting suspect Curtis Reeves. CNN.)

As gun violence increases and pro-gun forces achieve new legislation, the gun control movement in the United States is rapidly unraveling. In the year since Sandy Hook, when you’d think there’d be the political and popular will for reasonable new gun regulations, gun sales have reached record highs and AR-15s, the firearm used at Aurora and Sandy Hook, are the trendiest, best-selling weapons in the industry.

And now, in Florida, it’s possible that you can lawfully shoot a man in the chest at point-blank range to defend yourself against the lethal use of a popcorn. If not popcorn, definitely Skittles.

The notorious Florida law known as “Stand Your Ground” is back in the news. This time, it’s very likely the statute that will be used in defense of the 71-year-old ex-cop, Curtis Reeves, who shot and killed a man, Chad Oulson, inside a Tampa movie theater. Oulson had been texting his daughter’s baby-sitter during the trailers to mention that he’d be turning off his cellphone during the movie. Reeves was annoyed by the texting and an argument broke out. No punches were thrown, but Oulson tossed a bag of popcorn at Reeves who responded by brandishing a .380 calibre handgun and shooting Oulson and his wife.

So Reeves told sheriff deputies after his arrest that he was “in fear of being attacked.” And Chris Nocco, the Pasco County sheriff, said that Stand Your Ground will surely be used in Reeves’ case, though he intends to fight it.

While it’s true that Florida state law qualifies the popcorn-throwing as, technically, an assault, there’s no logical justification whatsoever for lethal force to be used in response to it. But in Crazy Florida the Stand Your Ground law authorizes deadly force if a person “reasonably believes” he or she is threatened with “great bodily harm” or “death,” and it doesn’t matter if there’s an opportunity to walk away from the fracas.

However, Reeves was the one who started the ill-fated argument, one, and two, there was no indication that Oulson was going to inflict “great bodily harm” or “death.” But he can easily make a debatable case for it, given his age and the popcorn attack.

Needless to say, the law is absurd. It expands and indeed bastardizes self-defense, providing a handy-dandy excuse to shoot and kill someone with whom you’re having a heated argument. Even if the argument descends into fisticuffs (or aggressive popcorn hurling) there’s no logical or proportional need for a firearm to be involved in any way. Stand Your Ground is simply and transparently a catalyst for selling more guns and giving the buyers something to do with them — all in the ironical name of preventing gun violence.

But none of these details really matter. The very existence of this concealed-carry-Stand-Your-Ground Brundlefly has helped to breed a culture that encourages and even glorifies this inexcusable behavior as somehow dutiful and patriotic.

Reeves and so many others exist in a bubble of hubris, anger and entitlement. Reeves obviously felt as though he was entitled to, as a God-given right, carry a loaded firearm into a movie theater. The possession of that weapon provided him with the ‘roid-rage hubris to instigate a fight, and the existence of Stand Your Ground provided a legal framework in which he could end that fight by discharging his weapon.

In a broader sense, and feeding this sense of entitlement, the gun lobby and the anti-Obama conservative entertainment complex have collectively fabricated a climate of defiant anger in the face of a president who they believe hates white people, hates the Constitution and is clinically obsessed with persecuting anyone who clings to their guns and Christian faith. Anyone following the administration closely enough knows that this isn’t anywhere close to being realistic. In fact, until Sandy Hook, President Obama had been mostly and admittedly unresponsive, at least at the policy level, to gun violence.

Yet the very existence of an African-American liberal in the White House has touched off a five year end-times-ish freakout among the more unhinged elements of the conservative movement. We’ve reached an era in America when it’s okay to walk into a fast-food restaurant carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle. It’s okay to hang out in a parking lot with a group of cohorts, all armed with loaded military-style weapons. It’s okay for a sitting member of Congress to troll liberals by giving away two AR-15s — again, the Sandy Hook weapon — in online contests. It’s legally permissible and societally acceptable to shoot an unarmed teenager because he was wearing a hoodie, walking the streets while black.

Blogger Milt Shook wrote in the Banter comments yesterday:

Just in the last few weeks, a woman was shot for knocking on a guy’s door to ask for help because her car broke down in Michigan. In Colorado, a teenager was shot and killed by her stepfather as she came home after sneaking out all night, because he thought she was a burglar. And in Virginia, another young person was shot and killed when they stumbled into the wrong house because they were too drunk to realize where they were. In every single one of these cases, the shooter had a choice, and chose to take a life immediately, rather than assess the situation and call police for assistance.

Yep. More good guys with guns.

Meanwhile, the gun control effort continues to be an exercise in futility. In the vacuum created by an almost total lack of a serious gun control movement, the quick and easy purchase of firearms will only grow as a resigned acceptance of the gun culture expands. There will only be more Curtis Reeves cases and more George Zimmerman cases. All because we’ve been conditioned to believe that the law and the Constitution is on the side of the well-armed, heroic shooter, and very seldom on the side of the victim.

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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