Stand Your Ground in Pasco Movie Theater Shooting Begs a Better Answer

Stand Your Ground in Pasco Movie Theater Shooting Begs a Better Answer

A little over a month ago, around 1 o’clock in the afternoon, I was on a “date” with my then-22-year-old daughter.

I cherish these opportunities. My daughter stands in the doorway of the next big “launch” in her life. I know that there is a good chance that opportunities to spend this kind of time together will become much more infrequent . . . and that, as has been true at times in the past, in time someone else will become her preferred “date” for the movies.

There’s also that uncomfortable realization that unexpected events, not launches but crashes, not exciting and inspiring but horrifying events, could eliminate those opportunities completely.

That same day, at that same time, that’s precisely what happened to a little three-year-old girl. She’ll never get to go on another movie date with her daddy, because, while my daughter and I sat together before the big screen in one theater, in another, a shooting left that little girl’s daddy dead.

This wasn’t Aurora, Colo., all over again (thank God!), though the initial call to 911 in Pasco County had the Sheriff’s Department preparing for the worst. No, this was a confrontation over texting in the theater during the previews.

Apparently, this little girl’s daddy was sending text messages to her caregiver prior to the start of the film (she was in day care so her mommy and daddy could have a movie date of their own). Retired Tampa police officer Curtis Reeves Jr. was sitting behind him. Apparently disturbed by the texting activity, Mr. Reeves asked the texting daddy to stop, and then reported him to management.

Exactly what happened next is the subject of some dispute. Recently released video appears to show something of a confrontation between Mr. Oulson, the texting daddy, and Mr. Reeves, with Mr. Oulson apparently standing up and turning around to face Mr. Reeves. Something of the kind would appear to have been a necessary event, given that Mr. Oulson was sitting in front of Mr. Reeves, and that Mr. Oulson was shot in the chest, not the back.

What is absolutely clear is that Mr. Reeves succeeding in stopping the texting and the confrontation . . . with a single bullet from the .380 caliber semiautomatic pistol he had carried into the theater in violation of the theater’s well-publicized policy prohibiting firearms.

“I can’t believe I got shot,” Chad Oulson said, according to eyewitnesses. Then he collapsed and died.

In the words of Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, “This was ridiculous.”

No, sheriff, it wasn’t ridiculous. Ridiculous suggests something silly; indeed, the word’s Latin root literally means “laughable.”

This wasn’t laughable. This was tragic.

No background check would have prevented this. No assault weapons ban, restriction on plastic weapons or regulation of the number of rounds in a magazine would have saved Mr. Oulson’s life. Indeed, given that Mr. Reeves is a retired police officer with an apparently clean record, there isn’t anything anyone is seriously proposing in the area of gun control that would have made a lick of difference.

Mr. Reeves’ attorney has maintained that Mr. Reeves was in fear for his life as a result of Mr. Oulson’s actions in the period immediately prior to the shooting.

It seems improbable that Mr. Oulson would have killed or seriously injured Mr. Reeves. Both of their wives were present (and Mrs. Oulson, at least, seemed to be attempting to calm the situation). There were other patrons in the theater. None of the testimony reported to date indicates that Mr. Oulson indicated that he had a weapon (he did not have one) or that he intended to kill or seriously harm Mr. Reeves.

In fairness, of course, Mr. Oulson’s statements and behavior might have been scary.

But there were an abundance of alternatives to this tragedy.

Mr. Reeves, frustrated by Mr. Oulson’s violation of theater policy and failure to comply with his requests, could have suggested to Mrs. Reeves that they move to other seats, and then done so. The theater was far from full.

Mr. Oulson, realizing that his texting was bothering Mr. Reeves, could have stopped immediately, or could have excused

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himself and completing his texting outside the theater. Or he and his wife could have moved to other seats.

But no . . . everyone was busy “standing their ground.” And under the law, no one had an obligation to withdraw, to reduce the tension, to do what every kindergartener is taught to do when conflicts over toys start to get heated.

In other words, Florida’s stand your ground law places the mantle of legitimacy on conduct we would not tolerate from children in elementary school.

That, my friends, is ridiculous.

2 Responses to Stand Your Ground in Pasco Movie Theater Shooting Begs a Better Answer

  • Jim Frishe

    I recommend you read/re-read Chapter 776; Justifiable Use of Force. Your conclusion that Mr. Reeves was following the law in any way or that it “places a mantle of legitimacy on” his conduct, is without merit. NOTHING in the statute gave Mr. Reeves cause to use deadly force.

    The media has created a false sense of the law among the public They use emotion to gin up a reaction they want and have NO responsibility to convey the actual language of the law, much less its intent. Their goal is to sell…airtime/papers/etc. I believe the media has failed in a primary way when it comes to serving the public good – but, that does not absolve individuals of their responsibility.

    Should Mr. Oulson have grabbed Mr. Reeves popcorn and thrown it on him? Of course not! Was it boorish behavior? Obviously. Perhaps Mr. Oulson did not pay attention during cotillion, but it does not rise to the level to justify the use of force under Florida Statute. That is what should prevail in a court. And the “Stand Your Ground” will probably not be part of the defense. “Stand your ground” protects a lot of legitimate behavior and may have discouraged some boorish behavior, but it does not give anyone the right to escalate from popcorn to .380 semi-automatics.

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