An Armed Society is a Polite Society – Except When It’s Not

Concern that other movie goers might be armed did not keep Chad Olsoun from annoying others in the audience by impolitely texting his 22-month-old daughter’s caregiver during previews in a movie theater last week.  Nor did the possibility that Olsoun might have a firearm keep Curtis Reeves, a retired Tampa police captain, from losing his temper and starting an argument over this annoying behavior.

But because Mr. Reeves did happen to be armed, Olsoun’s family held funeral services today.  In this case the “good guy” escalated the argument over texting in a movie theater until he drew a weapon and shot Olsoun to death.  

Gun rights advocates have embraced Robert A. Heinlein’s suggestion that “an armed society is a polite society” as part of the argument that “guns save lives.”  Presumably, knowing that anyone we meet could be armed will improve people’s manners.  Not so much in this case and it’s worth asking whether or not having a firearm actually made Mr. Reeves more aggressive and willing to confront a stranger.  Some studies suggest that firearms make people more aggressive or paranoid, though I’m not sure they get to the real question: are regular people more likely to start fights when they can pull a gun if things get out of hand?

It’s also worth asking what this says about the idea that a clean criminal record alone qualifies citizens to own and carry firearms.  We are all law-abiding citizens until we’re not, and it seems logical to think that those who wish to arm themselves should have to demonstrate some minimum level of mental acuity, responsibility, and training – perhaps through membership in a “well-regulated militia,” for example.  This shooter presumably passed a background check, which apparently doesn’t cut it.

Mr. Reeves had allegedly started arguments in theaters before, which suggests a generally aggressive behavior that could depend on the fact that he always has a gun in his pocket.  Could it be that this former police officer, who sees himself as an enforcer of rules, more willingly confronted others because he was armed?

One thing is for certain: in this case, an armed society was not a more polite one, and more guns did not save lives.  An armed man started an argument with a stranger over pretty much nothing, and when the stranger pushed back he shot him in cold blood.  And a toddler will never know her father.

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