Jailed for taking a picture: Student's Snapchat pic results in charges of making terroristic threats
Michigan lawmakers are speaking out after a student was charged with making terroristic threats for posting pictures of his AR-15 on Snapchat.
Lucas Gerhard, a 20-year-old student at Lake Superior State University, was charged with the offense in August 2019 after sending a picture of his gun to some friends. The photo was captioned: "Takin' this bad boy up, this outta make the snowflakes melt, aye? And I mean snowflakes as in snow."
Local media reported that two students at the university were shown the picture by one of Gerhard's friends. The two students reported the social media post to campus public safety, who then referred the matter to Sault Ste. Marie police. According to campus public safety, other students also complained about Gerhard's "extreme political views," expressing worry if he were to bring his gun to campus.
University policy allows for guns to be present on campus, but they must be registered and stored in the public safety department on a student's arrival for safekeeping. Gerhard checked in his gun and 240 rounds of ammunition the day he arrived.
It is the greatest of irony that Gerhard is a law enforcement major at LSSU, studying to be a police officer.
Gerhard told law enforcement that "snowflake" was a term for liberal-minded people and that their "minds" would be "melting" over the fact that he owned a weapon. According to local media, he expressed to law enforcement that he did not want to harm anyone and that, eventually, he wanted to become a police officer. Gerhard was arrested the following day and charged with making terroristic threats, a crime punishable by 20 years in prison.
Gerhard spent 83 days in jail before he was released on bond and awaits a trial this year.
"I was in disbelief. I couldn't believe the prosecutor had actually decided to press charges," Gerhard's father, Mark Gerhard, said of the incident. Mark Gerhard went on to describe his son as a "very vocal" conservative but "never vindictive about anything, never antagonistic."
In response, the Gerhards' Republican state Rep. John Reilly commented on the charges. "I never thought our society was so fragile that someone's life could be ruined for telling a joke among friends," said Reilly. "It's a travesty that the county prosecutor charged him with any crime for something that is clearly and undeniably protected speech under the First Amendment."
Reilly was joined by Republican state Rep. Beau LaFave and Michigan Open Carry President Tom Lambert in support of the legislation.
LaFave later wrote on Facebook: “Lucas was a 19-year-old LSSU Student studying to become a police officer when his school, the police, and prosecutors decided to turn his life upside-down over a joke. You may not like what Lucas said, but he is NOT a terrorist. His post was protected political speech under the First Amendment. Elected Prosecutors should know the difference.”
On that same day, Reilly and LaFave sponsored new legislation to redefine the crime of making a terroristic threat or making false reports of terrorism. They announced the bill at a press conference was held near the state Capitol, with Reilly, Michigan Open Carry President Tom Lambert and Mark Gerhard in attendance.