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Jane Ahlin, Published February 22 2014

Ahlin: Mary ponders right to kill someone who ticks you off

The sun was shining, the only jacket I needed for warmth was a layer of fleece, and we had friends joining us for dinner. On my way to the grocery store, I couldn’t resist singing, “When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbing along.” Nothing was going to ruin my day. Even pulling into the parking lot and seeing Mary Contrary in a fuchsia sweat suit standing near the automatic doors holding a poster didn’t rile me up. In fact, I kept singing as I approached the doors to the store and then spoke before she had the chance.

“The weather is too nice for whatever subject is on your mind today, Mary. Just let me get my groceries and go home. I have guests coming for dinner.”

“Whoa, Sunshine, you’re a tad aggressive this morning.” Before I could reply, she quickly said, “Answer one question, and you can be on your way.”

I didn’t believe her, but I said, “Oh, all right, make it fast.”

She turned the poster around. It read, “What do texting in a movie theater, playing loud music from a car in a parking lot, and looking suspicious in a hoodie have in common?”

As cheerful as I’d been, I felt myself sighing. “This is about Florida and the stand-your-ground’ law, isn’t it?”

“I think I’m the one asking the question, Sunshine.”

“Mary …,” I said, trying to add a threatening uptick to my voice.

“Oh, cool your jets, Sunshine. Of course that’s what I’m talking about. So let’s agree that in Florida, all three are good ways to get shot. On the other hand, if small things like somebody texting in a movie theater or kids playing music with the volume cranked up get your goat, Florida is a prime spot for getting away with killing somebody who does nothing more than tick you off.”

“That’s pretty strong, Mary. I’m not a fan of the law, but it is based on the longstanding American tradition of self-defense.”

“Only if you think self-defense means shoot first.” Mary shook her head. “Two guys get into an argument about texting in a movie. One guy throws popcorn and the other guy shoots him dead. Kids smart off to a guy who wants them to turn down their music and he fires 10 shots into their car as they try to get away, killing one of them. It’s like ‘stand-your-ground’ means open season on smart alecks.”

“Well, the stories from Florida are appalling examples of using lethal force over inconsequential things. It’s as if those men were looking for an excuse to shoot somebody.”

“Not ‘looking,’ Sunshine; if they can convince a jury they felt threatened, the law is their excuse.” Mary paused. “See, if you did your research, you’d know studies done at places like Texas A&M show that murders have gone up about

8 percent in states with stand-your-ground laws compared to states that don’t have them. Plus, there’s no evidence the laws deter any crimes whatsoever.”

“I’ve seen some studies – also that justifiable homicides are more prevalent in stand-your-ground states. But statistics don’t make the problem clear, Mary. It’s attitude and the loss of common sense. We’ve become a paranoid population who value gun rights over public safety, as if we no longer understand that in a civilized society, avoiding violence is vital to the social contract. “

Completely out of character, Mary Contrary was silent for a moment – so silent, I found it disconcerting. When she spoke, she sounded defeated.

“I keep seeing that group of kids, crazy for their loud music and happy being together, just loving life like every other bunch of obnoxious teenagers in every town in America.”

“I know, Mary.” I paused. “But I’ve got to get my groceries and be on my way.” I headed into the store.

She hollered after me, “Don’t overdo it, Sunshine. From where I’m looking, there’s already more than the ‘red, red robin, bobbing along.’”


Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.