Guns, Civilians, and Reactive Aggression

Curtis Reeves. Photo by Brendan Fitterer/AP

Curtis Reeves. Photo by Brendan Fitterer/AP

The recent shooting of Chad Oulson (43) by retired police officer Curtis Reeves (71) has helped me to solidify my view of civilians having guns. After what seems like a few heated exchanges that may have involved expletives over texting in a movie theater in Florida, Reeves shot and killed Oulson.

This incident highlights something very unique about gun possession. During times of reactive aggression, it is ridiculously easy to shoot and kill somebody if a gun is present. Reactive aggression is the result of somebody becoming so stressed and agitated that their mind turns to the flight or fight response. This brief moment is a moment of little to no reason, even a moment of temporary insanity. Somebody such as Reeves, in the age of retirement and with his spouse, is not going to entertain the ‘flight’ part of the fight or flight response, especially if he has the ultimate weapon of attack at his disposal.

The other type of aggression is instrumental aggression, where somebody deliberately plans out and executes the use of violence for power, entertainment, or perhaps respect (personal goals). During times of instrumental aggression, the type of weapon loses significance, because it’s a planned act of violence. During moments of reactive aggression, it is all too easy to shoot and kill, as opposed to wheeling a baseball bat or a hammer, or chasing somebody down with a meat cleaver. By the time the aggressor has thought about or attempted to injure a person with a bat, the moment of reaction has passed, and clarity has returned.

Reactive aggression is by far the most common type of aggression in society. Those flare ups we all have and quickly get over.

I am also convinced that many gun owners do not want or plan to injure or kill anyone. Clearly, it’s the gaining ‘control’ that appeals to gun owners. The only trouble is while they’re holding the gun they are losing mental control as their emotions start to tug on primitive survival instincts, and the presence of a gun is going to ignite the flight or fight response of those the gun is being aimed at. In fact, unless you have been trained to use a gun in these circumstances, the control you think you have is illusory.

One last thing that I think proponents of gun possession never fail to overlook, is the impact of what killing somebody would do to them for the rest of their lives. Even if killing is not the intent, it is still a very real possibility while a gun is present. Reeves now has to rationalize to himself, for the rest of his life, that killing Oulson was a necessity. He is going to fail at this, time and time again. He is going to lose sleep over it. He is going to struggle to see the world the same way again. In fact, one could argue that the impact this event has had on his mind and conscience is already his sentence for the crime.



The Guardian: Florida judge denies bail for retired cop accused in fatal cinema shooting

4 thoughts on “Guns, Civilians, and Reactive Aggression

    1. Jack Pemment Post author

      I’m for gun control, too, Lynette. I know the gun control debate has many dimensions, including rights and the second amendment, but my biggest objection comes from issues I mentioned above.


    1. Jack Pemment Post author

      I’d wager that Reeves has a conscience. The nature of the disagreement and the aftermath point to a man who felt threatened and became temporarily livid.



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