The more I learn about the moments before things went irretrievably wrong, those disintegrating seconds before Michael Dunn and Curtis Reeves Jr. pulled their pistols and blasted away, the more I wonder whether the 20th Century science fiction writer wasn’t right.
More than 50 years ago, Robert A. Heinlein (“Starship Troopers,” “Stranger in a Strange Land”) wrote, “An armed society is a polite society.” This is the part quoted by almost everyone partial to the most unencumbered interpretation of the Second Amendment, and it goes firearm-in-holster with the saying attributed to gunslingers responding to insults in Hollywood Westerns: “You better smile when you say that.” That is, you’d better be joking.
It’s the second part of the Heinlein formula, the part that gives a steely spine to his assertion, that bears mulling: “Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”
Let’s be absolutely clear: Neither Chad Oulson nor Jordan Davis deserves to be dead. While bouncing a box of popcorn off an old fellow’s head, or cranking up the sound on a car stereo to in-you-face levels are plainly obnoxious acts, it is hard to conceive how either is a shooting offense.
However, on the theory that it is better to better to be alive than dead, you have to wonder this: Would Oulson or Davis and his pals have ramped up their confrontations if they’d believed their targets were armed?
According to witnesses of the shooting at the Cobb Grove 16, Oulson’s last words were, “I can’t believe he shot me.” If this was heard correctly, it’s open to at least two interpretations. One reflects conventional wisdom: He hadn’t done anything worth getting shot over. The other, possibly closer to the truth: Oulson hadn’t counted on Reeves having a gun.
Probably, the same can be said for Davis and his fellows, who, during a chance encounter at a Jacksonville convenience store, initially dialed back the volume when asked by Dunn then, according to Dunn’s account, cranked it back up to an ear-throbbing level. Probably, everyone would be much happier if Dunn had simply chalked it up to kids today. But just as probably, the teens would have been far less likely to mock Dunn if they’d imagined there was a gun in his glove box.
No, not that there was a gun in his glove box and that he might overreact, although there is that. The question is just this: What if the other guy has a gun?
Anymore, that stands as a question we all have to ask ourselves, Florida recently having issued concealed-carry permit No. 1,250,000, and new requests piling up so fast and high the Legislature, through a Senate bill sponsored by Trilby Republican Wilton Simpson, may grant county tax collectors the authority to process (but not approve) applications.
The time has come to assume our fellow Floridian have guns backing up their claims on our courtesy, OK? Not, to reiterate, that texting or throwing popcorn or cranking up Lil Reese are such heinous acts they deserve gunplay. But in all routine engagements, isn’t it better to come out alive, if chastened, than true to your abrasive instincts and dead?