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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Standing your ground at the crossroads of crazy

Published:

Florida’s legislators can pass all the laws they want in the name of protecting the rights of gun owners, but one thing escapes them. Lawmakers have been unable to legislate common sense to those in our state with the itchiest trigger fingers.

Because of that, we live at the crossroads of crazy — a place where people die over minor things while their killers try to use “stand your ground” as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The perception of danger that is the backbone of “stand your ground” is not enough to keep this law on the books.

It’s not enough when a man is shot to death in a movie theater because an argument over text messaging escalated into thrown popcorn, and then gunfire.

It’s not enough to justify the case in Jacksonville, where 47-year-old Michael Dunn started blasting away during an argument with teenagers over loud music.

Dunn said he thought he saw a shotgun in the victim’s van.

There was no gun.

The jury at Dunn’s trial, trying to follow the law, couldn’t crawl inside his head to see if he was really afraid for his life. While jurors did convict him of three counts of attempted murder, with a possible 60-year prison term, it didn’t reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charge.

“I think there is some tweaking to the ‘stand your ground’ law needed,” Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford told a Florida Times-Union reporter Thursday.

Let’s run with that for a little bit.

I sent an email Friday to Marion P. Hammer, a National Rifle Association lobbyist in Tallahassee and past president of the NRA, asking, “In your opinion is it possible to be pro-gun rights but against SYG?”

For the record, I believe it is possible.

Second Amendment rights of gun owners and a law that turns everyday events into gunfights at the OK Corral are not the same thing. Lawmakers could seriously tackle that issue, but they won’t because Hammer would mobilize the NRA against them and they want to stay in office.

She didn’t respond this time to my email, but in lobbying for the current “stand your ground” law in 2004, she said, “I’m 4-foot-11. I’m 67 years old. If you come at me and I felt that my life was in danger or that I was going to be injured, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot you.”

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As we have seen, though, there are times when a reasonable person would say the danger didn’t exist. Take Dunn, for instance. If this hair-triggered loon had just returned to his car and driven away, we would have never known his name.

Or what would have happened at the Wesley Chapel movie theater if Curtis Reeves Jr. had a lick of common sense? There was nothing to be gained by pushing an argument with 43-year-old Chad Oulson over text messaging during the previews.

But no, “stand your ground” means you don’t have to back down. It institutionalizes paranoia.

The argument escalated to the point where Oulson apparently threw popcorn toward Reeves. Moments later, Oulson was dead.

Reeves’ attorney argued his client felt threatened, so he could stand his ground. The better course would have been for Reeves to stand and find new ground on the other side of the largely empty theater.

The scary thing is, not long after that I got a call from a reader who basically said Oulson deserved to be shot because he was a jerk to the older man. Online chatter said the victim in Jacksonville deserved it because he talked smack to Dunn.

Seriously?

Nowhere in the “stand your ground” law does it approve shooting someone because they were rude. I’d guess 99.9 percent of gun owners know that and behave accordingly. But if you’re telling me there is no way to follow the good sheriff’s suggestion in Jacksonville and tweak this law into something that makes more sense, I’m saying that’s baloney.

Fixing a bad law doesn’t mean the government is coming for your guns. It just takes away an excuse for anyone to behave like a lunatic. Eventually, they’ll get the message and more people will live.

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