But it was just a little bit of popcorn!

I am getting really tired of this story. Not the story of the retired cop in Florida shooting the popcorn throwing text messaging theater jerk. No, the story I’m getting tired of is the recurring self-defense narrative.

  1. Someone not an obvious criminals pulls out his gun in circumstances poorly described by news sources who are completely ignorant not only of firearms, but of the laws surrounding self-defense.
  2. Anti-gunners, sensing that they have a chance to blacken the name of all concealed carrying gun owners everywhere leap to call him a racist, sexist, homophobic gun-toting murderer.
  3. Gun owners on the internet come out of the woodwork to throw the shooter under the bus, describing in lurid detail all the things that the shooter did wrong, referencing the newspaper stories written by idiots ignorant of firearms and self-defense law.

Can a man get a trial before we lynch him? Can you people stop trying to surrender to the anti-gunners just long enough for the trial? Please?

“But,” you say, “It was just a bit of popcorn!”

Stop being stupid. We don’t know. We don’t know a damn thing about what happened. We have news stories written by people who don’t know the difference between the holding end and the flamey death end of a handgun. These people wouldn’t know the difference between Castle Doctrine and the Monroe Doctrine. They don’t know the difference between Stand Your Ground and Stand and Deliver. Relying on them for good information about self-defense is like expecting a politician to keep his promises.

The shooter will be convicted or acquitted based upon one thing. Was his fear of death or serious bodily injury REASONABLE. He claims it was self-defense. He says that he feared death or serious bodily injury at the hands of the person he shot. Now he has to convince a judge or jury that his fear was reasonable. How could he do that?

Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy.

Ability means that the other person has the power to kill or to cripple you.

The text messaging “victim” (for lack of a more neutral term) was in his 40s and was a fairly tall man. Here’s the photo of him and his family they’ve been circulating.

Chad OulsonThe shooter is 71. He’s not frail looking, but he’s still a senior citizen compared to the 43-year-old victim. There is every reason to believe that an enraged victim could have beaten the shooter badly enough to lead to serious bodily injury or death.

Opportunity means that the circumstances are such that the other person would be able to use his ability against you.

They were each on the other side of a set of set of theater seats, well within reach of each other. It is clear that he had opportunity.

Jeopardy means that the other person’s actions or words provide you with a reasonably perceived belief that he intends to kill you or cripple you.

This is where we lack information. Did the victim stay seated, get mad, and toss the popcorn? Or did he surge to his feet, tower over the victim, and shove a box of popcorn in his face while giving the impression that a further beating was about to happen? We just don’t know. We are told that the victim’s wife had put a restraining hand on the victim’s chest, which is how she came to be shot with the same bullet that killed her husband. Does this mean that she was trying to pull her husband off the shooter? Or was she just placing her hand there in that loving way wives do when they are trying to get you to remember your manners? We don’t know.

It is certainly possible that the shooter was justified. It doesn’t seem all that likely, mostly because we are relying on the news reports of people who don’t know anything at all about guns or laws. We can reasonably assume that police forces in Florida are going to arrest in any self-defense case they get so that they don’t get the same treatment that the Sanford Police Department got after the Martin/Zimmerman shooting. But we can’t take the arrest and the media stories and spin that into a conviction in the court of public opinion.

So when some anti-gunner gets all up in your face about one more “concealed carry killer,” instead of throwing the guy under the bus, say “He’s been arrested and is awaiting trial. Perhaps we should let the justice system determine his guilt or innocence instead of trying to lynch him.” You don’t have to defend him. You also don’t have to condemn him. And if anyone tries to force you to make the false choice between those two possibilities, change the subject from the shooting to the behavior of the anti-gunners. Just ask them why they are so eager to lynch a retired police officer.

19 responses to “But it was just a little bit of popcorn!

  1. Pingback: 3 Boxes of BS » Blog Archive » Rush To Judgment

  2. Sean-thanks for a well written and to the point article. I stopped reading and listening to the main stream media years ago for the very reasons you cite.

  3. I agree with everything you have to say in a general sense, but take exception in this particular case to this:
    The shooter will be convicted or acquitted based upon one thing. Was his fear of death or serious bodily injury REASONABLE.

    That would be generally true for most people. For a cop or a retired cop, it doesn’t take a lot of cynicism to expect that the prosecution will be a little more eager to look for evidence of reasonableness.

  4. I don’t think anyone would have heard the story if a gun was not involved. I doubt the victim would have pummeled the 71 year old to death. The 71 year old could have choosed to move, leave the theatre, get a refund, but no he tried to get the 43 year old to comply with what he wanted. When any one trys to exert their will onto another there is bound to be resistance, just because he had a gun does not mean he has to use force in any situation. All about choices; the 71 year old was not “law abiding” because guns were not allowed in the theatre, he disobeyed the law for what? He was acting criminally, you act like a criminal it is not being reasonable.

  5. G Wyant: surely you can wait for a judge and jury to condemn him before you string him up, right? You can wait for a neutral finder of fact to investigate thoroughly before you pass sentence, right? Why the unseemly haste to punish someone before he gets a fair trial?

    You bring up an interesting point. You’re right, if the retired cop had killed the other guy with a punch or a kick, no one would have heard about it. It’s only the fact that he used a gun that made this a story. Is that because the usual anti gun suspects are hoping to use this story to attack our rights again?

    And I’m glad you have faith that the victim in this case would not have pummeled the shooter “to death.” I am sure that’s a great comfort to everyone. Unfortunately, your faith is irrelevant. It’s not “death” that’s the standard for self defense. It’s “reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.” There is no requirement that the shooter have accepted even one blow before he defended himself. There is no requirement, either I’m gal or moral, that anyone take a beating while hoping that it will result “only” in injury rather than death.

    You could do an experiment. Go out and get in a few street brawls. Let them beat you up. Then tell us that a street ass whipping is nothing to worry about, and no good reason to use deadly force to avoid.

    I’m not even going to address your “well he should haves,” because you know as well as I do that there is no requirement that someone should anticipate the future angry outbursts of people and preemptively retreat to avoid the possibility that they might at some time in the future attack you. You’re just saying that as a way to try to shift the blame. Unless you can show he could reasonably have expected the other guy would attack him and he was deliberately goading into an attack, your argument is silly.

  6. “surely you can wait for a judge and jury to condemn him before you string him up, right?”

    Since an ex-cop did the shooting, will the people doing the investigation be completely unbiased in their examination of the evidence?

    Will the police be pressuring the prosecution to affect who gets charged, and with what?

    I can’t be the only person who is sick of violent cops not being held responsible for their misbehavior.

    I completely understand the point that you have been trying to make about this case. And I agree with your view on the subject. The media would love to remove self-defense as a viable option for citizens.

    But, that isn’t the only issue at stake here.

  7. Sean D Sorrentino

    Gunnutmegger: You are right, of course, but we cannot allow the principle of innocent until proven guilty to falter. It’s on the order of “So now you give the Devil the benefit of law?”


    And the devil he may be. It would not surprise me one bit. But until he’s convicted, I will not condemn him.

  8. Don’t we all remember the very first reports about the shooting of Trayvon Martin and how upset people were over what George Zimmerman had (so they were told) done? The reports may be just as wrong this time. Remember Gell-Mann Amnesia, folks! A lot of gunbloggers were angry at Zimmerman at first; now they seem to have forgotten the lesson about believing the “breaking news”.

  9. One thing to keep in mind, as a long time cop, the likelihood is that he immediately invoked his right to council. Even a week after the shooting it is highly likely that he has not said much to the police. So it is certain that anything that has hit the press has been one sided.

    What we also do not know about this story is what was said or done by both parties in the 20 seconds before the shot was fired. If…and I mean IF… The deceased said something like “How about I kick your ass” or “I’m going to beat your ass” or anything similar, that DRASTICALLY changes things.

    There were multiple witnesses within 15 feet so I expect that there are details of what exactly happened and those will come out I am sure.

    What I do know is that what has come out so far is almost certainly not accurate.

  10. Chris: not only was he a cop, he apparently founded one of the local SWAT teams. I would guess that this is not the first person he’s shot, which would mean he knows full well what he should and should not say. Not that this makes him more or less guilty, but it does mean he will get every benefit of the doubt because it is very unlikely that he will say anything stupid that will convict him.

    If I were a betting man I would lay money that he gets off. The funny thing is that if he gets off all the gun haters will blame Stand Your Ground and all the gun owners will say it’s only because he was a cop and got special treatment.

  11. Yea, I am inclined to agree with you on both counts…

    But the facts of FL law say that you may use deadly force to prevent the commission of a forcible felony, threatening to use physical force and actually using force (throwing popcorn) on an elderly person would qualify under the FL statutes:

    776.08 Forcible felony.—“Forcible felony” means treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.
    History.—s. 13, ch. 74-383; s. 4, ch. 75-298; s. 289, ch. 79-400; s. 5, ch. 93-212; s. 10, ch. 95-195.

    Battery on a person over the age of 65 is a felony in FL and is considered VERY serious and punished very harshly:

    784.08 Assault or battery on persons 65 years of age or older; reclassification of offenses; minimum sentence.—
    (1) A person who is convicted of an aggravated assault or aggravated battery upon a person 65 years of age or older shall be sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment of 3 years and fined not more than $10,000 and shall also be ordered by the sentencing judge to make restitution to the victim of such offense and to perform up to 500 hours of community service work. Restitution and community service work shall be in addition to any fine or sentence which may be imposed and shall not be in lieu thereof.
    (2) Whenever a person is charged with committing an assault or aggravated assault or a battery or aggravated battery upon a person 65 years of age or older, regardless of whether he or she knows or has reason to know the age of the victim, the offense for which the person is charged shall be reclassified as follows:
    (a) In the case of aggravated battery, from a felony of the second degree to a felony of the first degree.
    (b) In the case of aggravated assault, from a felony of the third degree to a felony of the second degree.
    (c) In the case of battery, from a misdemeanor of the first degree to a felony of the third degree.
    (d) In the case of assault, from a misdemeanor of the second degree to a misdemeanor of the first degree.
    (3) Notwithstanding the provisions of s. 948.01, adjudication of guilt or imposition of sentence shall not be suspended, deferred, or withheld.
    History.—s. 1, ch. 89-327; s. 1, ch. 92-50; s. 18, ch. 93-406; s. 1200, ch. 97-102; s. 19, ch. 97-194; s. 5, ch. 99-188; s. 1, ch. 2002-208.

    Throwing the popcorn would fit under (2)(c) and would also be “any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force” in the statute defining forcible felonies.

    Frankly, any defense lawyer in the state should be able to defend this case.

  12. The Zimmerman case does provide an interesting parallel. From the news reports, it sounded like a very marginal self defense claim and that the best pro-Zimmerman argument was that there was not any evidence that contradicted his version.

    Then we watched the trial and saw – at the close of the prosecution’s case and before a single defense witness was heard – that he had a textbook case of self defense and the prosecution never had a case.

  13. A guy texted all the way through the previews at the theater last night when I went to see Lone Survivor with Shootin’ Buddy, despite a theater employee having come in before the lights dimmed and asked everybody to please turn off their phones.

    Hm. How could this be?

  14. Sean D Sorrentino

    Sadly it appears that the “Turn off your phone” warnings, both in person and in the previews have exactly the same effect on militant texters as those “No Guns Allowed!” signs have on criminals.

    I would never suggest that texting in a film is a crime worthy of shooting. That would be absurd. But my father tells me that when Los Angeles news stations started carrying reports of “Freeway Shootings!!!111Eleventy!” everyone on the LA freeways suddenly became polite drivers. They pulled out of your way in the fast lane and waved as you passed to show you how happy they were to get out of your way.

    Perhaps our “just ignore it, it’s not our business” approach to rude social behavior has removed disincentives to rude social behavior. Sadly, any other approach might lead to jerks texting in movie houses getting shot, which seems excessive. It’s as if I am required to assume that any attempt at a polite social correction on my part may lead to a person trying to murder me, and if I resist that murder attempt then I’m the idiot. So I keep my mouth shut and continue to facilitate the original bad behavior.

  15. Pingback: SayUncle » Just Popcorn

  16. I’m guessing that this old dude bullied people all his life as a cop and when he retired he missed it so took to hanging out at the movies and bullying movie goers. How aggravating to a reasonable person is someone texting during a movie preview?

  17. Walt: Yes, that is certainly possible. We’ve all met cops like that. As to your second point, some find it really irritating.


    I don’t spend enough time in theaters to have an opinion.

  18. Y’know, Sean, if you would read what I’ve actually written, I haven’t said anything about the shooting itself. When the facts are in, he may well have been absolutely within the letter of the law. Just like the guy in north Georgia who shot the Alzheimer’s patient in his yard.

    What I have said was that the situation was completely avoidable.

    If that makes me some kind of softie liberal enabler of rude behavior in this world, well, I personally believe I gave up my right to be the Manners Police when I strapped on a gat.

    If you believe differently, well, it’s your life to live. Me? I’ve found it makes me pretty mellow. There’s nothing more soothing than the constant “Hey, let it go; this dude is just not worth it” to keep me centered.

  19. Tam: I don’t think I’ve said that you discussed the shooting itself. Nor did I characterize your views on the shooting. I did link you above as a “person who found texting in the theater to be bad behavior.”

    I’m sorry if I said something to the contrary, and if you’ll point to it I will happily issue a correction.