published Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Cook: When reason and handguns crash

Days after Tennessee was named the most violent state in America, Kevin Chitty walked away a free man.

In one of the most disturbing legal cases of the year, a jury of his peers declared Friday that Chitty acted in self defense when he shot a man in the back of the neck.

It was Thanksgiving 2011, around midnight. Chitty, 45, had stopped his Ford F-150 at a red light on Bonny Oaks Drive. With him, his two sons and toddler grandson. Out of nowhere, 37-year-old Jerry Martin rear-ended his Oldsmobile into Chitty, who then exited the truck.

And brought his .40-caliber handgun with him.

Moments later, a bullet would crash into the vertebrae of Martin as he was driving away, leaving him paralyzed. What happened between the red light crash and that fired bullet is contested between the two men.

Martin's story: He got out of his Oldsmobile and walked toward the truck to see how bad the damage was. He said Chitty was out of his truck, acting angrily. Cursing. Martin got back in the car and started to drive away.

That's when Chitty fired.

Chitty's story: Martin flashed a gun as he steered his Oldsmobile parallel to Chitty's truck, where his grandson and sons sat vulnerably.

So Chitty fired.

To protect his family.

In self defense.

"I'm sorry, I thought he had a gun," Chitty told police.

But Martin didn't.

No gun, anywhere in the car. On his body. Nowhere.

"We the jury find the defendant Kevin Lamont Chitty not guilty," the jury foreman said.

Because, as attorneys argued, Chitty acted appropriately under Tennessee law. He felt threatened. Saw a gun. Had to protect his family. And under such guidelines, at least in this case, self-defense becomes synonymous with shooting an unarmed man as he drives away.

I'm not vilifying Chitty who, reportedly, is a good family man, and no doubt troubled by his actions. He has no criminal history of this or that.

Martin? He had at least one open warrant. A criminal record of drug charges and aggravated assault. Had been drinking that night. Possessed no driver's license or car insurance. (Which probably meant he'd be fleeing the scene anyway, not looking for gunplay with strangers.)

But when Chitty opened his truck door under the midnight sky, he knew none of that.

And their story is less about the way they crashed into one another and more about our society and what we are allowing to happen.

Chitty had a dozen options before he decided to fire.

Call the police.

Call the police again.

Stay in the truck.

Speed away if he felt threatened.

Or go through the normal routine that happens every day across the country when two people in cars crash into one another.

But this collision led to a different collision of sorts. Chitty, who had his concealed handgun, said he saw Martin pull out a gun.

And such an illusion -- for there was no gun in Martin's hand -- is a by-product of gun culture which over-arms itself to protect against danger here, danger there. If you've armed yourself, you're looking for a threat. And what you see is what you get.

Concealed-carry culture produces a population of quasi-vigilantes. It bypasses the role of police and turns regular citizens into hyper-alert guardians. About half of all aggravated assaults and homicides happen between people living under the same roof, yet concealed-carry culture denies the domestic privateness of such violence and turns normal, everyday actions -- like a traffic accident -- into situations pregnant with danger.

If you carry a gun into public, you see the world quite differently than those who do not. As Chitty did, you see things that are not there.

Gun or no gun? The jury said it did not matter. Asked by attorneys the haunting question -- would a reasonable person behave in such a way? -- jury members said yes.

Yes, Chitty's actions are reasonable. In this brave new world of ours, this is how reasonable people behave.

So in this post-Trayvon, Wild West landscape of our own creation, little fender-benders turn into shoot-outs as gun culture creates what it seeks to avoid.

Martin said he was scared of Chitty.

Chitty said he was scared of Martin.

So he shot him.

And a jury said it was reasonable, here in the land of Volunteer violence.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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RShultz210 said...

I do not agree with your statement that concealed-carry creates a culture of ANY sort. I have carried a handgun on and off my entire adult life and I don't have some sort of vigilante mentality. If anything carrying a gun is about responsibility, not vigilantism. Carrying a gun does make me feel safer but not like I am, to paraphrase Travis Tritt "Ten Feet Tall And Bulletproof." If you DO harbor deep feelings of paranoia then the last thing you should have is a gun. But if you are a reasonable, stable, civilized individual, there is NO reason why you should not be able to exercise your divine right to self-defense utilizing the same amount of force the criminal element in this society has access to. And if you ARE stable and civilized, the source of any conflict in which you find yourself will not come from under your own roof. You are flat wrong and my having carried a gun for 30 years without shooting anyone proves it. The only people who should not have guns are people who see criminals behind every tree or signpost, and they are the ones who have given Tennessee the dubious distinction it now has. I am now and will continue to be MUCH more afraid and wary of the police than of the criminals.

October 15, 2013 at 5:12 p.m.
jesse said...

Just because your paranoid don't mean they ain't after ya Shultz!!

October 15, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.
conservative said...

I’m not buying what anti gun rights Mr. Cook is selling. A jury armed with all the facts decided against Mr. Cook.

I am suspicious of Mr. Cook because he is rambling and unnecessarily convoluted. For example:

“About half of all aggravated assaults and homicides happen between people living under the same roof, yet concealed-carry culture denies the domestic privateness of such violence and turns normal, everyday actions -- like a traffic accident -- into situations pregnant with danger.”


In New York a motor cycle gang harassed and attacked an unarmed man dragging him out of his van and beating him in the presence of his wife and child. They had been on the phone calling 911 and were cornered by stopped traffic and the motor cycle gang.

Do you think things would have been different if the father had been armed?

October 15, 2013 at 6:29 p.m.
una61 said...

"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". Carry a gun and feel threatened? Shoot! Don't carry a gun? Get bulletproof car windows. Road Rage and guns don't mix.

October 15, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.
una61 said...

Has anyone noticed the similarities between this incident and the Trevon Martin case in Florida. Not only do both victims have the same last name but they were both unarme0 and had criminal pasts and both shooters claimed that they "felt threatened". Well, I feel threatened. As an unarmed, law-abiding citizen, who protects me from the gun-toting Road Ragers, Type-A Personalities, and belligerent drunks who will claim that they "felt threatened" after they shoot me?

October 16, 2013 at 1:02 p.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

I think things would have been different if the motorcyclist had been armed. No need to break out a window, bust a knuckle or muss their hair - just point and pull.

October 16, 2013 at 9:17 p.m.
nucanuck said...

If you feel threatened enough to carry a gun then you must live in the wrong neighborhood, community, or country.

Guns aren't part of any logical solution.

October 17, 2013 at 12:30 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Innocents are murdered every day in every country. The difference is in some countries, there is no adequate means of self protection. Calling the police after you've been shot in the head, stabbed in the heart, or clubbed in the skull, not an option.

October 17, 2013 at 11:19 a.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

Just point, pull the trigger and all your problems go away. Wonderful. I'm imagining Chitty and martin both packing 40 caliber Glock 19s with 15 bullet clips. I'm thinking you'd need 3 maybe 4 more coffins.

October 17, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.
jesse said...

Hunter, ya don't realize it but your elevator ain;t makin it to the top floor!You are just spouting the no brainer lib point of view! The violence prob. goes so far beyond just who has guns that spouting B/S just shows how ignorant you really are!

October 17, 2013 at 3:39 p.m.
nucanuck said...

I repeat, guns aren't a part of any logical solution.

October 17, 2013 at 4:06 p.m.
nucanuck said...

...but then again, you guys weren't talking about solutions.

October 17, 2013 at 4:07 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Throw more money away, blame Whitey, cry racism, do you need more solutions?

October 17, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

Jess doesn't know me but he's fine with calling me stupid.

Congratulations Jess.

If your grandmother were sitting at the dining room table and I said to you what I wrote above and you reply with what you wrote - is she proud of you?

October 17, 2013 at 6:37 p.m.
jesse said...

I did NOT say you were stupid!

There is a difference ya know!!

October 17, 2013 at 11:29 p.m.
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