Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland Township, filed Senate Bill 5483 that aims to redefine a terrorist threat after a Lake Superior State University (LSSU) student was arrested over a social media post involving a firearm.
Reilly and the student’s father, Mark Gerhard, told reporters Tuesday that Lucas Gerhard, 20, faces charges of making a terrorist threat, a felony that could carry a 20-year sentence.
Mark Gerhard spoke on behalf of his son.
Lucas sent a Snapchat of his Colt AR-15 rifle to a closed group of friends on August 22, captioned: “Takin this bad boy up, this outta make the snowflakes melt, aye? And I mean snowflakes as in snow.”
Lucas arrived at LSSU on August 23 and checked in his rifle and 240 rounds of ammunition, and was arrested the following day and jailed for the next 83 days.
Reilly said his legislation would better delineate the line between a joke and a terroristic threat.
“I never thought our society was so fragile that someone’s life could be ruined for telling a joke among friends,” Reilly said, adding that the post is “clearly and undeniably protected speech under the First Amendment.”
Reilly’s bill laid out three elements required to be considered a terror threat: the statement must be a true threat of violence against someone or property, must come from the speaker or an agent of the speaker, and be considered in context so that a “reasonable” listener would understand it was meant to threaten.
Gerhardt said the person who reported Lucas wasn’t in the Snapchat group but was shown the message by someone within the group.
If the school saw the message as a safety concern, Gerhardt said, they would have locked down the campus and told the Michigan State Police to intercept Lucas on the way to LSSU, instead of after he arrived and checked his gun into the Public Safety building.
Gerhard alleged that the reasoning behind the terrorist threat was a comparison to “The Wizard of Oz,” in which the Wicked Witch of the West melts and dies.
Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, said that Lucas’ treatment was “a gross miscarriage of justice.”
Court documents say that LSSU Public Safety had numerous prior incidents and contacts with Lucas, including an anonymous tip from a downstate law enforcement agency claiming he posed a potential threat to perpetrate a school shooting.
Lucas told law enforcement that he didn’t want to harm anyone or himself, according to court documents.
Tom Lambert, president and legislative director of Michigan Open Carry, said that the charges were politically motivated because Lucas is an active conservative.
Lambert said that the Chippewa County chief assistant prosecutor heading the case was opposed to the type of firearm shown in the picture.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jillian Sadler declined to comment on the facts of the case but denied the above accusation.
Sadler told The Center Square that there’s no restriction on owning or possessing an AR-15 so long as the owner acts within the bounds of the law.
Sadler said the facts of the case will be presented at trial, which reporters were told was scheduled for March 18.
The bill was referred to the House Committee on Military, Veterans and Homeland Security.