by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.
In a Florida movie theater a father was texting his daughter. Admittedly this action is annoying: You are in a dark theater engaged in a film and suddenly blinded by this little bright light. Many of us groan and a brave person might even say something to the offending texter. But on this particular day the texting father and a 71-year-old retired police officer got into a scuffle. At the end, the retired officer pulled the gun and shot the father dead.
The man with the gun was both a trained retired police officer and retired security guard, just the sort of person who is considered responsible for gun ownership.
The incident is reminiscent of another movie theater shooting. In July 2012, 12 people were killed at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Back in December, I wrote about the increase in gun violence as a public health issue. At that time, there had been a historic increase in shootings across this country and the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals had struck down the state of Illinois’s ban on concealed weapons. In fact, my Illinois university sent out a notice this week stating that “no concealed weapons” signs would be posted on every building. Otherwise, we’d have to permit guns in classrooms. If that happened, every single student would get an A. It’s not worth putting your life on the line to give a student an earned grade when in anger, you are at greater risk for being shot over that act.
As a society, we have been told by the NRA that a gun in the hands of a trained person is not dangerous except to the criminal or wrong-doer. While texting during a movie isn’t a good thing, is it worthy of the death penalty? At times we are all stressed by forces that anger us. The driver on the freeway who cuts you off. The person in the line at the supermarket who talks on the phone and pays with a check. The person in the parking lot who pulls into the space you have been waiting 10 minutes for. One can even be pushed over the edge of reason by such experiences We may act out in irrational and destructive ways whether it is yelling at someone, honking the horn and gesticulating with your finger, or in a famous movie scene in the film Fried Green Tomatoes, Kathy Bates repeatedly crashed her vehicle into the one that just stole her spot.
As the film clip shows, sometimes that rage causes us to grab whatever is at hand to gain some sense of satisfaction and even revenge on the offender. Luckily Bates’ character hit an empty car. What if she had a gun? The same impulse could easily caused her to shoot the person who stole her spot an act that would have changed this comedy film into a tragedy. The point is if a deadly weapon is accessible, one’s rage may push you to use it instead of throwing some sharp words or even the occasional punch. When the tools at hand are highly likely to lead to morbidity or mortality, then something is wrong with the premise.
I make a few predictions as a result of this shooting. First, I expect to hear that the shooter is unstable, has anger management issues, or suffers from mental illness. Second, I expect the NRA to offer condolences to the family. Third, I expect the NRA to suggest the answer is to have armed guards at all movie theaters and/or that if more trained people were carrying guns at the theater than this incident could have been avoided. Fourth, I expect elected officials to share their concern over this tragedy and do absolutely nothing to change the gun laws. And fifth, after an arrest and trial, I expect this retired police officer to be acquitted. After all, Florida is the land of the famous Trayvon Martin case which brought “stand your ground” laws into the spotlight.
It’s time we faced this public health issue head on. As we face tragic shooting after tragic shooting and do nothing, more people are injured and more people are killed. It’s time that we said enough.