Does Florida Let You Bring a Gun to a Popcorn Fight?

The New York Times reports that a fatal shooting at a movie theater near Tampa last week "instantly sparked a national debate about legal firearms in public spaces." If so, it has not been a very well-informed debate. Curtis J. Reeves Jr., the 71-year-old who shot 43-year-old Chad W. Oulson during an argument about the latter's texting during the previews, is a retired police captain, meaning he would have been allowed to carry a gun even before Florida liberalized its rules in 1987. In fact, former cops are allowed to carry guns even in states like New York, which has a discretionary permit policy under which it is difficult for ordinary citizens to obtain such permission. So the fact that Reeves was legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon (although he did violate the theater's ban on weapons) was not due to Florida's relative lenience in this area.

But surely there is something about Florida that can be blamed for Oulson's death. What about that awful "stand your ground" law? New York Times reporter Frances Robles raises the possibility but (to her credit) explains why the 2005 statute is unlikely to help Reeves:

Mr. Escobar [Reeves' lawyer] has said that because of his age, Florida law supports Mr. Reeves' self-defense claim. In Florida, a misdemeanor assault against anyone 65 or older is a felony. And in Florida, a person who has a reasonable fear of great bodily injury or death is not obligated to retreat.

"He's throwing spaghetti against the wall to see which noodle sticks," said TJ Grimaldi, a lawyer representing Mr. Oulson's widow, Nicole.

Mr. Escobar suggested that he is likely to seek immunity under the hotly debated Stand Your Ground law, which became a household term in 2012 when the police in Sanford, another Central Florida city, cited it as the reason a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, was able to go home after killing an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, who he said attacked him.

But even Mr. Zimmerman’s defense lawyer said that given what is known so far, it would be difficult to come up with a Stand Your Ground defense in these circumstances.

"A felony in and of itself does not justify deadly force," said Mark O'Mara, who successfully defended Mr. Zimmerman at his trial this summer. "I would call that a Hail Mary pass."

The use of deadly force is justified only if the fear of bodily harm is reasonable and if the felony is dangerous, regardless of the shooter's age, Mr. O’Mara said.

A judge agreed and held Mr. Reeves without bond. 

Since Oulson's assault on Reeves apparently consisted of throwing popcorn at him, it will be hard for Reeves to argue that he reasonably feared serious injury or death.

Although the editorial board of The New York Times claims otherwise, the "reasonable belief" standard is neither new nor unusual. In New York, for instance, the use of deadly force is permitted if "the actor reasonably believes that [the] other person is using or about to use deadly physical force." Even on the question of whether a person attacked in a public place has a duty to retreat, the difference between New York's law and Florida's is not as big as as the editors of the Times like to imagine. In New York the victim of a public assault is expected to retreat rather than use lethal force only if he "knows" he can do so "with complete personal safety" for himself and others. Furthermore, there is no duty to retreat at all if the victim "reasonably believes that [the] other person is committing or attempting to commit a kidnapping, forcible rape, forcible criminal sexual act or robbery."

In short, the fact that Reeves was armed had nothing to do with special features of Florida law, and neither do his prospects of mounting a successful defense. Responding to a hail of popcorn with a gunshot is no more reasonable in Florida than it is in New York.

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  • GILMORE||

    " In Florida, a misdemeanor assault against anyone 65 or older is a felony"

    Noted: So is using any newfangled jive-talk, failing to tuck your shirt in, playing hippity-hoppy music on your boom-box, or driving a car above 30mph for any reason.

  • Jordan||

    Or failing to extricate yourself from said person's lawn.

  • l0b0t||

    In the late 1980s, the city of Ft. Myers criminalized Cruising (the act of driving down the same street more than twice in 30 minutes). On Friday and Saturday nights the police would chalk the tires of cars driving downtown to ticket cruising scofflaws.

  • Zeb||

    So, if you just need to make a quick run to the store, you need to find an alternative route home?

  • Mainer2||

    No, not you...just the bad people. The police can tell the difference.

  • Dead or In Jail||

    I want this ex-cop in prison. Housed with the general population. I foresee this ending well. In the meantime, I'm.... making popcorn.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Curtis J. Reeves Jr., the 71-year-old

    And retired cop who just had to execute a plebe for getting uppity.

  • datcv||

    The fact that he is trying to justify or defend his actions indicates that he doesn't feel any remorse for murdering someone over a trivial argument.

    Really, the most decent thing Reeves could do would be to kill himself and leave an apology note.

  • Mainer2||

    Many years ago, an item shipped to me by common carrier was damaged in transit. A large heavy security storm door with glass panels shipped in a cardboard box. Clearly not crated and protected for shipment. When I was talking (arguing) with the seller about his responsibility, he suddenly and relevant to nothing heatedly told me, "I was in law enforcement for 23 years ! ".

    Now having read the stories here about police abuse, I understand. He was used to getting his way. Having to actually negotiate with me must have been driving him nuts, when he had spend so many years threatening violence.

    So yeah, I suspect a retired cop probably would think it's ok to kill someone who threw pop corn at him. What do they call that, a depraved indifference to the lives of others.

  • sarcasmic||

    From what I have seen, being accustomed to getting your way by threatening violence is not so much something someone learns from being a cop, but a prerequisite for getting the job.

  • Mainer2||

    Insecure, Frustrated Bully With Something To Prove Considering Career In Law Enforcement
    http://www.theonion.com/articl.....ove,33427/

  • sarcasmic||

    I still want to know how many people this guy killed while employed by the government. Based upon how casual he was about committing murder in the theater, I'm thinking this was not the first time he killed someone.

  • Maxwell's Hummer||

    "I still want to know how many people this guy killed while employed by the government."

    You mean as a cop? Considering the fact that most cops never fire their weapons in the line of duty in their entire careers, probably none. But who knows? You?

  • sarcasmic||

    When I read about a cop killing someone, it often isn't their first time. It's as if once they get a taste for killing, they take every available opportunity to do it again. Also, this particular individual helped create his department's tactical unit. Likely that means he participated in lots of raids, which would increase the chances of his having an opportunity to kill someone.

    To me though, mainly it's the casualness with which he took a life that has me suspecting it wasn't his first time.

  • Smilin' Joe Fission||

    Sarc: Based upon how casual he was about committing murder in the theater

    MH: Considering the fact that most cops never fire their weapons in the line of duty in their entire careers

    Most is not all. His attitude and casualness towards shooting someone in a theater says something about how serious he thinks shooting someone is.

    MH: But who knows? You?

    Sarc: I still want to know how many people this guy killed while employed by the government.

    No, he plainly said he doesn't know but would like to.

  • Maxwell's Hummer||

    So why is he asking us instead of doing some research?

  • sarcasmic||

    Ah yes. So I'm not allowed to muse without your approval, right?

    I'm surprised you can type and suck cop cock at the same time. You're quite talented.

  • Maxwell's Hummer||

    You could be researching instead of masturbating.
    Just saying.

  • sarcasmic||

    How exactly would I obtain that information?

    Call up the department he worked for and ask real nice?

    File a FOIA request?

    Do the local cops tip you when you man their glory hole?

  • Maxwell's Hummer||

    Here you go, dipshit. You'll need to take your hand off your dick to click it. CAUTION: It's from HuffPo. No mention of juicy killings, beatings, tasings or other jack-booted thuggery. They're probably lying! Derp.

  • sarcasmic||

    They're probably lying! Derp.

    It's not as if there is a long tradition of police routinely lying to the public so as to protect each other.

  • Maxwell's Hummer||

    I still want to know how many times you've beaten your boyfriend. Based upon how angry and frustrated you are, I'm thinking you've done it a LOT. But where would I get that information? Call your employer? Your rehab counselor? Ask Google?

  • Killaz||

    instantly sparked a national debate about legal firearms in public spaces.

    When is the next time that comet swings around? NYT is nothing but a cult now.

  • Aloysious||

    That 156 million made its way somewhere. "Unspent'? Right.

  • Aloysious||

    This comment is in the entirely wrong thread. Disregard.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Comments at CNN are surprisingly un-retarded:

    OldMan06472

    "But Your Honor; he threw popcorn at me"

    Really??

    Steven Chavez
    EVEN RETIRED COPS are Ticking Time Bombs who will BLOW UP for any minor incident and go berserk on innocents who then have to prove they weren't the CRAZY ONES.

    Everyday they lose RESPECT!

    E. Ellet
    Don't forget the cops who beat to death that schizophrenic kid in Fullerton, CA., as he pleaded for his life.

    tony
    Don't forget the cops who shot the black guy that was in an accident in NC and was coming to them for help.

    justthefaxpleez
    There was a cop who just shot a man sitting in his car in Yakima Washington just last week. Apparently he was holding a toy but that was enough for the cop to yank the passenger door open and empty his weapon on the guy.

    rahul
    while good in principal, if the fullerton case is any example, even video evidence of police misconduct will be ignored.

    E. Ellet
    Yeah, those demoncops walked, the jury gave them a pass as always in Fullerton. But those cops will still have to contend with Federal Charges that will sooner or later be brought against them, and in Federal Court, bad cops 9 out of 10 are convicted and go to jail. Their day is coming when the Feds will arrest them and charge them and take them away.

    Leegal Counsel
    The New Orleans police officer who shot the man in the back, then participated in the burning of his body during Hurricane Katrina, was recently acquitted, ... in Federal Court!
  • Dweebston||

    It doesn't signify much, since proggy logic will follow its usual course: Retired police officer in Florida murders fellow movie-goer, therefore we need national gun control legislation.

  • Snark Plissken||

    From NYT:

    But even Mr. Zimmerman’s defense lawyer said that given what is known so far, it would be difficult to come up with a Stand Your Ground defense in these circumstances

    .

    Even Zimmerman's lawyer who didn't use SYG defense. But the implied association is left as an exercise to the reader.

  • ||

    No one has addressed the central issue of this case. Is it OK to text during previews? It seems to me like a red flag for bad behavior, but not wrong by itself. I always thought it was OK to talk during previews but not the movie.

  • Maxwell's Hummer||

    An armed society is a polite society.

    Derp.

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