A 20-year-old college student in Michigan is facing 20 years in prison for posting a photo of his newly purchased rifle on social media with a caption predicting it would “make snowflakes melt.”
Lucas Gerhard shared the image of him touting the AR-15 with a closed group of friends on Snapchat on Aug. 22. He was scheduled to return for fall classes at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the following day.
Gerhard commented on the photo: “Takin this bad boy up, this outta make the snowflakes melt, aye? And I mean snowflakes as in snow ;).”
When Gerhard arrived on campus, he gave his rifle and 240 rounds of ammunition to the public safety department to be registered and secured, as required by school rules. But on Aug. 24, he was arrested on a charge of making a terrorist threat, which carries a maximum prison sentence of two decades.
According to court documents, two students informed the Lake Superior State public safety department about Gerhard’s Snapchat post the same day he shared it. They described Gerhard has having “extreme political views” and worried he could pose a risk to the campus.
The director then alerted alerted Sault Ste. Marie police, the court documents said.
Lucas Gerhard faces 20 years in prison
Security officials at the school, Michigan’s smallest public university, said they had previous contacts with Gerhard, including when downstate law enforcement received an anonymous tip that he was a potential school shooter.
After his arrest, Gerhard sought to explain the Snapchat post to a police officer. He said he meant “snowflake” to refer to liberals or Democrats and “melt” to allude to their “minds melting” when they learned he had brought an AR-15 to school.
Michigan state Rep. Beau Matthew LaFave, a Republican, on Tuesday called on Chippewa County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Stratton III to drop the charges.
“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,” LaFave wrote on Facebook. “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.”
A crowdfunding page for Gerhard describes him as an “Eagle Scout studying criminal justice.”
Pluralist left a telephone message requesting comment from the Chippewa County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office but did not immediately hear back.
“I never thought our society was so fragile”
Also Tuesday, at a press conference near the state Capitol, Republican Rep. John Reilly, Michigan Open Carry President Tom Lambert and Gerhard’s father, Mark Gerhard, announced they were introducing legislation to redefine the law on what constitutes a terrorist threat.
Lucas spent 83 days in jail, his dad said.
Here’s a print out of the photo Lucas posted on Snapchat.
Lucas is scheduled to go to trial in Chippewa County on March 18. pic.twitter.com/CISv4lSlWz
— Mikenzie Frost (@MikenzieFrost) February 11, 2020
Reilly said the statute is currently overly broad in that in does not require the use of language a “reasonable person” would understand as a threat or that a target be specified.
“I never thought our society was so fragile that someone’s life could be ruined for telling a joke among friends,” Reilly said. ”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.”
Mark Gerhard said the charges were filed because one of his son’s friends showed the post to another student with whom Lucas previously had “political arguments.” The woman “took offense” and told campus officials, he said.
Lucas Gerhard also was present at the press conference. But he did not speak on advice of his attorneys. He was free on bail after spending 83 days in jail.