If three times makes a trend, there’s an awfully dangerous trend in Florida: Men with anger management issues, packing handguns, killing unarmed men who happened to cross their paths at the wrong time:
1. George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin after confronting him as he walked through a gated community on a rainy night. A jury bought Zimmerman’s self-defense argument, but subsequent events make him look anything but innocent. Both his ex-wife and his girlfriend have charged him with threatening them with guns during arguments.
2. Curtis Reeves killed Chad Oulsen after berating him for texting during the previews at a movie matinee. Reeves, a 71-year-old retired police captain, is being held without bail.
3. Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis in a parking lot outside a convenience store after Dunn complained that the teen and his friends were playing “thug music” too loud on their car stereo. Dunn, who had been drinking, said he saw Davis point a shotgun at him, but nobody else did, and no weapon was ever found. Last week, a jury convicted Dunn of the attempted murder of the other three teens in the car, but couldn’t reach a verdict on the charge of first-degree murder.
Yes, there are racial aspects to two of these cases, but let’s not go there. There are questions of legal strategy I’ll leave to others. And let’s not argue about the Second Amendment for now.
And OK, maybe three shootings does not make a trend. But there is a marked trend toward states making it easier to carry concealed weapons, some writing it into their state constitutions. The number of people getting concealed carry permits is up sharply in many states.
In Florida, more than 1.4 million people were licensed to carry concealed weapons as of Jan. 31, 2014, more than five times the number of license-holders in 2000. That’s a trend that might make you think twice before sending a text message in a Tampa movie theater.
More people than ever seem to be packing heat, even though the crime rate continues to decline. I don’t understand how carrying a pistol in your pocket became a cultural signifier and a political statement. I wonder about the mentality of Florida’s dangerous men.
First, I must admit I’ve never been a gun owner, and never wanted to be one. I don’t know what it feels like to walk around packing heat.
Second, I’ll stipulate that there are millions of responsible gun owners, including many who carry concealed weapons. Most, I hope, would never point a gun in anger or confusion. If you are one of these, hold your fire. I’m worried about the other guys, not you.
As for those other guys, I worry about what goes on in their heads. Of the people who carry a handgun even when they aren’t taking a large cash deposit to the bank or on their way to the firing range, some – most? – must assume they’ll have to use their guns at any moment. Some – most? – assume everyone else is carrying guns. Some amuse themselves by watching other people suspiciously and playing out scenarios in their heads in which they would have to shoot someone – in self-defense, of course.
Page 2 of 2 - So here we have three cases where gun owners made a snap decision to draw their guns and fire – and it was the wrong decision, to the extent that none of the three victims was armed and the three shooters landed in court.
The shooter is responsible, not the gun, of course. But does the gun itself carry some totemic power? Is it like the ring hung around Frodo’s neck, calling out for him to use its power? Does it make the owner – again, probably some small percentage of gun owners – feel more threatened than he really is?
“Something happened inside of me when he advanced towards me and my paralysis left me,” Dunn explained in a jailhouse interview. “Between fear, adrenaline and muscle-memory, I grabbed my pistol from the glove box. As I was doing so, I shouted, ‘You’re not going to kill me you son of a b—-!’”
Zimmerman and Reeves also assumed the person they were arguing about was armed. “It scared the hell out of me,” Reeves told police after the shooting. “He kept hollering. He led me to believe he was going to kick my ass.”
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law makes the shooter’s perception – not the reality of the situation – the grounds for determining if the act is legal: It says a person “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.”
You have to be at least a little paranoid to feel you have to carry a loaded gun on a daytime trip to a movie or a convenience store in a safe neighborhood. If being afraid – whether or not that fear is justified - becomes a get-out-of-jail-free card, we’re likely to see more innocent people killed by angry men who don’t take time to think before they pull the trigger.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @holmesAndCo.