MOORHEAD, Minn. — A 27-year-old West Fargo, N.D., man is in jail after threatening a woman with a handgun because he took issue with her political bumper sticker, according to the Moorhead Police Department. (Driver with Trump bumper sticker waved gun at driver with Warren bumper sticker)
Because the brandishing of the gun is illegal, something could be done about this kind of intimidation. Tracking these kind of threats can be hard, especially without evidence. I'm glad it was reported and verified. I'm especially pleased that the perpetrator, Joseph Schumacher, is facing charges of felony terroristic threats. He was also charged with having a loaded handgun inside a vehicle without a permit, a misdemeanor.
Threats and intimidation by men with guns are often downplayed or ignored, especially in domestic violence situations. But individuals and groups can take steps to change laws.
Open carrying guns at political events is a terrorist threat
In some states it is legal for a person to show up open-carrying a gun at a political rally. If asked why they are carrying their guns they will quote the state law and the second half of the 2nd Amendment. They won't acknowledge their true intent. They want to intimidate people.
In Schumacher's case, the police were able to connect his previous actions to his brandishing his gun which met the conditions for the charge. As the case moves forward we will see if the charge will hold up in court. But the point I want to make is that this same linking of actions can lead to felony charges for people carrying guns at political events.
Why is open carry legal? The NRA worked hard to change the laws in states to expand where guns can be carried and remove requirements for permits on who can carry. They built on the rural/urban divide in states with hunters to support open carry with their: "Ah shucks, we're just fixin to go huntin' lady, don't get hysterical!" anecdotes. I heard them more than once in town halls across the country.
"When I was in high school kids had shotguns in the racks of their pickup trucks from hunting before school. Why should I be arrested for just going down to Walmart to buy ammo for duck hunting?"
But the men showing up at political events with an AR-15 aren't on their way to hunt ducks, and they know it. Intimidation is the point.
The NRA wants to water-down the intimation factor of a physical presence of a person with a gun. Finally, following the Walmart mass shooting, some retail corporations somewhat addressed the bogus premise of open carry. (They SHOULD ban open carry and conceal carry in the store totally, but that's another post.)
Threatening and Gaslighting For Dummies. by Donald Trump. Forward by convicted felon, Michael Cohen
Threatening and intimidating others is big in the Trump era. Like Trump, many avoid acknowledging what they are actually doing to escape consequences. It's a little game for them. We see it in the mob speak Trump and his cronies use. But not everyone has 30 lawyers, his father's fortune, an entire media outlet and the US Attorney General to cover for them. People can be busted for their threats.
Here are suggestions on how to deal with people making threats with guns. Three steps, short term, medium term and long term.
Guys Dressed Like Magnum P.I. Open Carry Guns to Stalk Moms
A few months ago two guys in Hawaiian shirts followed a group in Missouri on a Moms Demand Action protest march across town. The marchers took photos of the guys and asked what should they do.
Some people said, "Call the police!" Great! That is one solution. What then?
Be prepared for the response! In my experience the people doing open carry know the law extremely well. They know not to "brandish" a gun. They expect to encounter people questioning them, especially the police. They often alert the police in advance that they are going to do this. They will video tape their interactions so that they can show how they are the victims being harassed for doing something perfectly legal. When police show up they will explain their perfectly legal stalking of the group while carrying their weapons. Given those possible actions, what else can people do?
1) Bust them in real time by knowing the law. For example, it's often explicitly illegal to carry guns on school campuses or government court houses. Change the route of the walk, then have the police waiting for open carriers when they cross over the school or court campus line. (Be aware they follow all public pronouncements of events and infiltrate groups to obtain intel on actions and responses.)
2) Get photos of the people to identify them and the organization that they are part of
Interestingly they will often offer up this info willingly. They believe their record is clear--but check them! Domestic violence cases aren't always recorded correctly. A long time organizer friend said to go up to the men carrying the guns and ask, "Can I help you?" Let them talk. Ask them questions. RECORD EVERYTHING THEY SAY AND DO.
Privacy for me but not for thee
The NRA got laws passed that protect the identity of people with concealed carry permits, I understand the need for this in certain cases. But the people who want to intimidate using open carry might call for privacy because they want to maintain their power to intimidate anonymously. They will say it's because they don't want the "bad guys" to know they are carrying. In their world everyone is a potential bad guy.
You will note that I didn't identity the exact location of these guys, beyond the state of Missouri. That's because when open carriers are identified for their armed threats, they go after the people and families they can find to attack and intimidate them online and in person. I don't want to put anyone in the area at risk. (I've said before that National GVP groups should do this research and follow up on behalf of local groups.)
This is where we get back to Schumacher's threat and charge. Correlation of the open carriers with their group is important, since often other members in the group do NOT have clean records. They have been know to harass individuals online. These members often openly make threats on Facebook within the group's postings. These can show the intent of a person's actions.
Not all members of groups threatening people online are smart enough to hide their online posts.
When police work to determine if someone is a "true threat" they look to see if the person has a history of threats, have the means, motive and are in the same physical location.
Hawaiian shirt guys might know all the rules for open carry, and still make threats online that cross the line.
Correlation can build a case to move people into the "true" threats category for a criminal case. If it doesn't rise to that level, it can build a case against the person and the group on their FB page. It can also lead to possible civil action in the future.
Threatening speech is not protected speech
Armed people want to control the narrative. They want to tell you it doesn't matter what you say, they will have the last word. That's not always the case.
There is also a qualitative difference when someone carrying a gun wants you to know they disagree with your political views. The line an 'armed society is a polite society" really means, "Be polite to me, or I will shoot you."
The Guardian complied a list of recent cases of people who threatened political figures or others on behalf of Trump. Many have been convicted and are serving jail time. I'm glad their stories made the news because I want everyone to know that threatening speech is not protected by the 1st Amendment. You can do something when armed people threaten you over your political views.
3) Change the laws in the community -- Long Term Solution
I'm a big proponent of figuring out how to make change at small levels, learn from the process and then scale them up.
Recently my friends in Nebraska got a law passed in Lincoln that mandated secure storage in vehicles. (Link 1011) This is a big deal. I want to acknowledge how important this action is.
People get depressed when they don't see action on the national or state level. But as this case proves, change is possible.
The good news is that attitudes about the appropriateness of guns at political events are changing. The laws that reflect those attitudes can change too.