Generally speaking, pointing your fingers like a gun and pulling an imaginary trigger isn’t always illegal, not even in Pennsylvania, but the case that made it a crime for Stephen Kirchner is common enough that it should make everyone stop to consider just where we draw the line between free speech and excessive regulation.
The incident happened a year ago, in the Summer of 2018, and slowly made it’s way through the Lancaster County legal process to the commonwealth’s Superior Court, for an appeal decision. 63-year-old Kirchner asserts he never even had a traffic ticket before this.
A typical neighborhood feud had brewed for a while between Kirchner’s companion Elaine Keeno and the neighbor. Keeno had a restraining order preventing Josh Klingseisen from having any contact with her. That’s why Klingseisen had his perimeter surrounded with video cameras.
The part of the controversial incident that the cameras didn’t catch, was that Klingseisen, who was standing inside his house at the time, noticed the couple walking past and flipped them the bird. Kirchner simply responded in kind with the gun pointing pantomime. That would have been the end of it, except another neighbor felt threatened and called the cops.
“He pointed his finger out like he was going to shoot somebody. So I went and called the cops cause you just don’t know now a days,” Elaine Natore explains. How could she know if it was loaded or not?
According to Judge Maria McLaughlin, the actual crime “was the act served no legitimate purpose and recklessly risked provoking a dangerous altercation.” Ms. Keeno observes “The bar has now been lowered for what constitutes disorderly conduct.”
She made it clear that her two companion judges sitting as a panel agreed with her that it doesn’t apply to everyone. Calling it “a pervasive gesture frequent on schoolyard playgrounds and favored by campaigning politicians,” it was still a crime when Kirchner did it. Kirchner’s actions caused Mrs. Natore to “feel insecure.”
The attorney for Mr. Kirchner argued that “the gesture did not cause a hazardous or physically offensive condition,” and also that “he did not intend to cause public alarm, and that there essentially was no harm done to the victim or society,” but the judges weren’t buying it.
Kirchner now has a disorderly conduct charge on his record and his wallet is $100 lighter, plus he had to get out his check book for the court costs. His lawyer is still considering another appeal.
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