Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

January 20, 2014

‘Stand your ground’ does not apply to popcorn toss

TAHLEQUAH — Whatever else Curtis Reeves might be, he is a coward. How else would you describe an adult who feels threatened by a bag of popcorn?

Reeves is the 71-year-old former Tampa, Fla., cop who got worked up when he saw Chad Oulson texting to the baby sitter of his toddler during previews before the movie. Reeves left the theater to tattle on Oulson, but when the manager was busy, he returned to the auditorium, engaged Oulson, and ultimately blew him away with a .380 semi-automatic.

Predictably, the shyster representing Reeves tried to apply an affirmative defense, and paint his client as the victim. But the definition of “imminent threat” is required by Florida’s controversial “Justifiable Use of Force” statute, and a bag of popcorn doesn’t fit the bill.

The so-called “stand your ground” law was used successfully to get George Zimmerman off the hook for killing teenager Trayvon Martin nearly two years ago. Zimmerman shot Martin and later claimed the 17-year-old Martin was the aggressor. Martin turned out to be unarmed, and he was black, so the issue quickly became racially charged. An eyewitness report that Martin was atop Zimmerman and punching him convinced the jury Zimmerman was acting in self-defense.

The main author of the law didn’t think “Stand Your Ground applied to the Zimmerman case, and also indicated he believed the measure – designed to allow law-abiding citizens to protect themselves – was being misused.

Many Americans may have conceded to a “gray area” in the 2012 case, but the latest Florida shooting is etched in black and white. And if Reeves is allowed to paint himself as a victim, it will only raise hue and cry for more restrictive gun laws, force theaters and other public venues to spend money for additional security, and further tarnish the image of gun owners who would never dream of abusing their Second Amendment right in this manner.

The section of the Florida law the lawyer was trying to use is this one: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

It’s true that texting in a theater is considered rude, and so was throwing the popcorn. But does texting, or a mild altercation in a public place, justify the slaying of another human being? Do we, as a country, really want to go there?

Florida prosecutors should throw the book at Reeves, with considerably more force than Oulson threw the popcorn. Otherwise, exercising our First Amendment right to speak our minds will ultimately put us in fear for our lives.

One has to wonder what would have happened if another theater patron had brandished a weapon after the shooting, and drawn down on Reeves. Under Florida law, that would seem to be justified.

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