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O’Neill: Life in ‘Gunshine State’ and corrosive culture

By joe o’neill
Special correspondent
Published: January 22, 2014

Columbine. Gabby Giffords. Founding Fathers. Adam Lanza.

As a society, we shouldn’t be collectively familiar with names such as Trayvon Martin, a high school student who used to visit his father in Sanford, and Pasco County’s Chad Oulson, an employee at an ATV and jet ski dealership who planned a matinee movie date with his wife last week. But in tragic death, they’re now bigger than life.

Gun rights. Freedom. Nancy Lanza. Littleton.

As utterly needless, fatal shooting victims, they’re heart-wrenching symbols of something that is very wrong in this country and this Gunshine State. It’s a corrosive culture, aided and abetted by ideological cheerleaders, that brazenly abuses sensible connotations of freedom and perverts meaningful application of the Second Amendment. We’re not, to be sure, talking about a “well-regulated militia” these days.

Right to carry. Congress. James Holmes. Wayne LaPierre.

Check out these headlines within the last fortnight. “Gun Rights Group Sues UF Over Ban on Weapons in Cars.” “Florida Carry Sues UF Over Campus Housing Gun Ban.” “USF Allows Guns in Cars.” Where legal underpinning meets Founding Father fodder.

And this just in – just because something is legal, it doesn’t make it right – or even preferable. It makes it officially not illegal. But close enough. Why chance being unarmed when road rage strikes on the way to USF?

You own a weapon? Have a license to carry it? Bring it.

To the mall. To the movies. To the coffee shop. To the gym. To work. To school. To church. To a Tampa GOP political convention. Why have unexercised rights? Why have an unexploited Second Amendment? Never know when a bad guy will need confronting.

Gun laws. NRA. George Zimmerman. “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Look, I’m not some central casting bleeding heart. I don’t take lock-step liberal stands on the minimum wage or felon rights or profiling, for example. I believe in context and common sense and not outsourcing my ideology to the usual suspects, left or right.

But when I see blatant cases of cranial and moral fracking, I’m not letting it pass.

Let’s look at our most recent Gunshine State Exhibit A at the Cobb Grove 16 theater. It’s hard to believe that a disagreement over animated texting to a little kid — during the movie TRAILERS — should have even resulted in raised voices and tossed popcorn. But stupid happens. At worse, it should have escalated into nothing more than ever-higher decibels, an airborne, retaliatory Diet Coke and summary expulsions from the theater.

End of embarrassing incident. Everybody go home, adopt an adult demeanor and consider behavior modification and Netflix.

Instead, dumb morphs into the dumbfoundingly tragic — and a second-degree murder charge results. That’s because the shooter, the one who took exception to the texting, was armed.

So, let’s go over this again. You’re – retired TPD cop-status notwithstanding — at a movie and you need to pack heat? What the hell is up with that?

Even if you claim you weren’t the initial aggressor, why had you strapped on a .380-caliber pistol as part of your “Lone Survivor” prep? Because that’s the counterproductively sick culture we increasing are forced to live — most of us — with.

And it’s not changing any time soon. As we well know, it remains unconscionable that Congress can’t even agree to ban the sale of assault weapons to anyone not on a SWAT team or in the military.

And here in the Gunshine State, “stand your ground” will still stand after the next legislative session. If this is the new normal, it’s hardly disarming.

Marion Hammer. Trevor Dooley. Aurora. Wesley Chapel.

Police chases a judgment call

The issue of police chases continues to defy a perfect solution. There will always be guidelines. There will always be judgment calls. And there will always be evolving criminal-innocent civilian priorities.

But there will always be this reality. Unchased law-breakers, even if they’re “only” car thieves, are not known as prudent, defensive drivers. Pursued or not, those trying to put as much distance as quickly as possible between a commandeered car and its owner will likely pay scant attention to speed limits, traffic lights and roadside signage.

Absent a police chase, innocent people are still at risk. They will still become statistics because dangerous drivers are on the road. It’s a matter of degree — and situational judgment.

Arts education essential

I like acronyms. No, I’m not talking about text and chat abbreviations such as LOL, but old-school acronyms that actually create a word. To wit: scuba (self-contained, underwater breathing apparatus) or WASP (white Anglo-Saxon protestant). And now, thanks to Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, we have another easily referenced, legitimate acronym: STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math education.

It’s Sharpe’s neolgistic way of underscoring a key additional element necessary in helping make Florida more relevant in its education priorities — and more attractive to innovators. It’s a valid message: Don’t shortchange the arts in furtherance of STEM curricula.