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Saturday, Aug 23, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Can anybody crawl inside shooter’s mind?

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Generally, I come down on the side that believes businesses that ban guns are asking for trouble. To paraphrase the bumper sticker, when business owners prohibit guns, only bad guys will bring them inside.

Usually, anyway. There is, after all, the story from a few months back about the law-abiding fellow whose failure to heed a no-guns sign at a discount store outside Montgomery, Alabama, enabled him to thwart the plans of a pistol-waving madman who threatened several customers and shop employees.

Otherwise, gun owners usually concede a property owner’s rights to set the terms of entry trump their concealed carry licenses. Never mind that broadly advertised gun bans are known to attract spree killers like moths to a flame.

All that said, I can’t help wondering whether Curtis Reeves Jr., charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Chad Oulson, wishes he’d followed the no-guns edict at the Cobb Grove 16 multiplex that fateful January afternoon. Erase his pistol from the equation, and it’s unlikely the retired Tampa cop would be spending these days inside the Land O’ Lakes Jail awaiting trial and hoping the 2nd District Court of Appeal will cut him a break on his denial of bail, or a little girl will grow up without her daddy.

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After all, even if you think gun bans invite troublemakers, what were the odds Reeves was going to be called on to return fire from some James Holmes-copycat, a heavily armed nutcase suited up like a jihadi inflamed by Marcus Luttrell’s “Lone Survivor” story? Anyone that paranoid ought to stay home and wait for the pay-per-view rollout.

Even Reeves, according to witness testimony, was flabbergasted: “I can’t believe what I’ve done.”

Then again, who truly can crawl inside Reeves’ head? Not that we lack for self-appointed, if supremely uncredentialed, experts who have assigned Reeves’ activities to typical cop-bully-gun-owner-coward-Republican behavior.

At some point, however — and one wishes that point were sooner rather than later — attorneys defending Reeves are going to ask 12 jurors to attempt that fantastic voyage.

We know, based on the mini-trial in February that ended with Judge Pat Siracusa denying bail, as well as a brief filed May 28 — a scornful reply to Attorney General Pam Bondi’s argument against overturning Siracusa — Reeves’ team is all-in on self-defense. Not stand-your-ground, which remains newfangled and unpredictable, but old-fashioned, primal, common-law self-preservation.

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Know what? I’ll bet they have a chance.

Reeves attorney Richard Escobar is certain to argue, as he did during the exhaustive two-day bail hearing, that the episode is not remotely as advertised — that is, a grumpy old man shooting a doting young father because he wouldn’t stop sending text messages to his daughter, or his daughter’s sitter. That might be how Reeves began his brief acquaintance with Oulson, but that part of the drama was over, Escobar plausibly claims, when Reeves rejoined his wife after ratting out Oulson to theater management.

Escobar also can demonstrate — supported by the theater’s surveillance cameras — that between Reeves’ return and the deadly gunshot, Oulson accounted for 100 percent of the provocation: The younger man mocked Reeves, stood and towered over him, bounced his cellphone off his chest (it was found on the floor in Reeves’ aisle), and finally conked him with a full box of popcorn.

Having presented all that, the lawyer will ask the jury to perform a mind meld: There’s a wall at your back, your wife on one side and other moviegoers down the row. You’re pinned to your seat, immediate escape is unlikely, and the tall, imposing younger man standing over you seems increasingly hostile. What would you do?

Me, I’d have wished I hadn’t said anything in the first place. That I’d have moved without a word, if I was all that bothered.

But Chad Oulson cornered a guy who was armed, and attorney Escobar has a chance to make an interesting argument that his client’s response, while extreme, wasn’t disproportional.

I’m not saying that’s right. Only that it’s interesting. So let’s get on with it already.

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