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April 24, 2014

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OTHER VOICES:

Time for metal detectors at movie theaters?

Imagine what would happen if Florida movie theaters put metal detectors in their lobbies.

I was thinking about this because the latest act of gun ownership run amok in Florida played out at a theater in that had a no-weapons policy but no metal detectors to enforce it.

While the previews were running for a Monday matinee, Curtis Reeves, a 71-year-old retired Tampa police officer carrying a licensed and concealed .380 semi-automatic handgun, was irritated that the man sitting nearby, Chad Oulson, 43, was texting.

Both men were there with their wives, and Oulson was texting his toddler-aged daughter’s baby sitter. It doesn’t sound like the recipe for bloodshed. But it was.

Reeves walked to the theater lobby to complain about the texting to a manager, who apparently was too busy with another customer to handle the complaint. So the retired cop walked back to his seat and handled the matter on his own, which escalated when the younger texter threw popcorn at him.

Reeves drew his concealed handgun and shot the man dead as the younger man’s wife got a bullet through her hand while attempting to block the shot.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office charged Reeves with second-degree murder, and at his first appearance in court, his lawyer contended that the victim in this case was the shooter, who was simply using justifiable force against the popcorn thrower.

Another moviegoer at that theater has since come forward to say that Reeves frightened her three weeks earlier when he glared at her for texting during the movie and then followed her out of the theater, prosecutors said.

Movie theaters are magnets for irksome human behavior — texting, snoring, talking, putting feet on the backs of other people’s chairs, theater hopping, littering, spilling drinks. The list goes on.

Maybe that’s why theaters adopt no-weapons rules.

State law restricts Florida’s million-plus concealed weapon holders from bringing their guns into schools, bars, courthouses — and of course, state legislative gatherings. (They’re not fools when it comes to their own safety.)

But things get murky when it comes to private businesses. State law doesn’t prohibit concealed weapons permit holders from going in the business. So it’s the policy of the private business, not the law, that Reeves broke when he carried his handgun into the theater.

And nobody sees a concealed weapon. So it’s easy to ignore. Unless there’s a metal detector.

With a metal detector at the theater, Reeves would have been stopped and given the choice to either leave the gun in the car or go elsewhere.

That might have sent Florida’s gun-happy legislature into a tizzy. Because in Florida, the legislature operates as a facilitator to the gun manufacturing business.

Consider this. A day after the shooting, legislators weren’t talking about re-evaluating their more-guns-the-merrier approach to lawmaking. They were in a Florida Senate panel pushing along a bill that prohibits insurance companies from charging higher premiums to customers who own guns.

And in other happy gun news, another new bill is being offered to make it easier than ever to get a concealed weapons permit in Florida by expanding the application processing to county tax collectors.

Metal detectors would send the wrong message to legislative efforts aimed at promoting gun ownership.

The detectors might even, God forbid, create the impression that the proliferation of guns in Florida isn’t really making us safer.

Frank Cerabino writes for the Palm Beach Post.

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