Brandon Long (right) is among the many commuters using smartphones on the way to work on a Muni train stopping at San Francisco's Powell Street Station on Friday. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle SF Gate
A man standing on a crowded Muni train pulls out a .45-caliber pistol.
He raises the gun, pointing it across the aisle, before tucking it back against his side. He draws it out several more times, once using the hand holding the gun to wipe his nose. Dozens of passengers stand and sit just feet away - but none reacts.
Their eyes, focused on smartphones and tablets, don't lift until the gunman fires a bullet into the back of a San Francisco State student getting off the train.
Investigators say this scene was captured by a Muni camera on Sept. 23, the night Nikhom Thephakaysone, 30, allegedly killed 20-year-old Justin Valdez in an apparently random encounter.
For police and prosecutors, the details of the case were troubling - they believe the suspect had been out "hunting" for a stranger to kill - but so too was the train passengers' collective inattention to imminent danger.
"These weren't concealed movements - the gun is very clear," said District Attorney George Gascón. "These people are in very close proximity with him, and nobody sees this. They're just so engrossed, texting and reading and whatnot. They're completely oblivious of their surroundings."
The story goes on to mention that although cell-phone use can be such a distraction as to make people unsafe, there is another side of the coin. Often crime is detected with the help of photos taken by smart phones and certainly many crimes are reported in a timely manner now that almost everyone has a device in their pocket.
What's your opinion? Does the new technology make us safer or more unsafe by often being oblivious to our surroundings.
How about gun owners? How can they maintain their famous situational awareness while talking or texting on their phones?