Editorial: Hand gestures aren’t hand guns | TribLIVE.com
Editorials

Editorial: Hand gestures aren’t hand guns

1612458_web1_gtr-loriedit-090119

You have a right to bear arms.

But maybe not hands.

On Tuesday, a state appellate court decided not to overturn the disorderly conduct conviction of Stephen Kirchner, 64, of Lancaster County.

Kirchner walked past a neighbor’s home. The man made an obscene gesture at him. He returned the favor by pointing his finger and cocking his thumb like a gun.

That was what got the police involved. Not because the neighbor involved in the exchange contacted them. No, a witness called 911 saying the June 2018 incident left him feeling “extremely threatened.”

Let’s be clear about the gesture. This is the same thing little kids playing cowboy or police or soldier have done since before the advent of Super Soakers or Nerf arsenals or even cap guns.

It’s exactly the same thing you might do to zing a rubber band across the room at your sister when your mom’s not looking. You might place the same fingers in the same position on your forehead to call someone a loser. You might aim them at your own head behind your boss’s back in a particularly trying staff meeting.

There may be issues with all those uses. A parent might not want a kid to play with any guns, even the natural ones on either hand. Calling another student a loser might get someone sent to the principal’s office for bullying. The frustrated gun-to-the-temple could be painful for someone who has been touched by suicide — or it might get you fired if your boss sees it.

But what it should not be, in and of itself, is illegal. Pointing it at another person can be because of its inherent threat of harm. A word isn’t illegal. Directing certain words at a person can be because they could presage or promise that harm. A hand gesture should be no different.

What it requires is context, as with any exchange. “I’m going to kill you!” is an obvious threat, unless it’s an excited utterance from a friend surprised with a party. “Beat him!” is alarming unless you are talking about hockey fans shouting about a face-off.

Our society seems to have lost the capacity for context. People live at a threat level prepared for anything to be meant in the worst possible interpretation. Perhaps this is how children holding toy guns have ended up shot and killed.

There is a desperate need for common sense and critical thinking, on all sides. Pointing a gun-shaped hand at a neighbor isn’t a good idea. But neither is making it a crime.

Categories: Opinion | Editorials
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.