New Hampshire home owner Ward Bird is sitting in prison thanks to a three-year sentence for “felony criminal threatening.” According to the official court records [via leagle.com], a woman named Christine Harris was looking at property near Mr. Bird’s trailer home when she became lost. “Harris drove past signs that stated ‘Private road, keep out’ on Emerson Path and ‘no trespassing’ on Yukon Trail. She missed the left hand turn off of Yukon Trail, drove past the white trailer, and ended up in front of the defendant’s house. She parked her car and got out. The defendant emerged from his home screaming, ‘get the F off my property’ . . .
“He came down from his porch, continuing to yell profanities while waving a gun at her. At trial, she testified that he pointed the gun ‘[t]owards’ her. Harris asked the defendant whether he was the boyfriend of the woman selling the property. He repeated his command for her to leave his property. Harris eventually climbed back into her car, mouthing ‘[w]hat an ass.’ The defendant then walked off the porch toward her waving his gun as she backed out of the driveway.”
The prosecution, jury conviction and subsequent sentence has riled up residents in the Live Free or Die state. You can read the New Hamshire statutes involved and follow the ongoing protests, letter writing campaign and appeals for clemency on freewardbird.org. Meanwhile, today’s concordmonitor.com added its voice to the growing chorus pointing out the absurdity of the law, the ruling and the sentence, calling for new legislation to clarify lawful brandishing.
The key element of the criminal threatening law, for example, appears to be not the state of mind of the person making the threat but the emotional state of the target of the threat. If the person is scared enough, then the person making the threat is guilty.
Say it’s the week after the horrific Mont Vernon home invasion that left a mother dead and her 10-year-old daughter severely wounded. Several teens, hoping to attend a late-night party, go to the wrong house and knock on the door. Inside are a single mother and her children. The mother answers the door, but she’s holding a leveled pistol. The teens panic, run and call the police.
In this scenario, the woman would have done the same thing Bird allegedly did, minus his apparent profanity. Would a jury find her guilty of felony criminal threatening? Maybe. Maybe not.
What if the gun wasn’t loaded? She knew that she could not “inflict death or serious bodily injury” on anyone, but the teens didn’t. Under the law, it doesn’t matter. She had used a firearm to “purposely place(s) or attempt(s) to place another in fear. . . “
Once again, we’d warn anyone who owns a firearm for self-defense to become thoroughly familiar with the laws in his or her state regarding the display or use of that firearm, and what needs doing immediately after a self-defense shooting. As does the Monitor:
Surveys suggest that about one-third of the state’s households have a gun in them. The people in those homes need to know when they may legally point that gun, loaded or unloaded, without winding up behind bars.
Or, we would add, dead.
UPDATE: New Hampshire has freed Ward Bird. Click here for details.