“Yeah, uh, they’re having a City Council meeting about getting on a petition to ban hand guns...And I strongly advise if everyone wants to stay healthy that they table that vote.”
The Stillwater City Council was still holding hearings on dilapidated properties and not even close to addressing its potentially controversial resolution supporting State Question 803, the referendum petition on permit-less or “constitutional carry”, when the anonymous call came in at 6:17 p.m.
The councilors knew gun issues provoke strong feelings, but they didn’t expect threats of violence.
City Manager and former police chief Norman McNickle, who maintains his status as a reserve officer, was immediately notified at his seat next to Mayor Will Joyce and additional police officers converged on City Hall, searching the hallways and checking the building’s exterior. The officer assigned to provide security during City Council meetings moved from his usual post in the hall to a spot inside the council chamber as the meeting continued.
Although it wasn’t determined to be a credible threat, McNickle expressed anger at the caller and the situation.
“Not only is this person who called in ignorant about what the resolution was about, they are a coward,” McNickle said. “... It appears to me that it does a significant amount of damage to their cause if their goal is unfettered rights to carry a gun.”
Mayor Joyce doesn't take threats lightly. Although he doesn't talk about it publicly, Joyce was sitting in the back row at the 2008 Kirkwood, Missouri, city council meeting where a disgruntled resident opened fire, killing six people. The victims included two police officers, two city councilors, the public works director and the mayor, who was shot in the head and died from his injuries seven months later, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Joyce escaped without injury.
He declined to speak on the record about the Kirkwood shooting, saying he wants to be respectful and he hasn't figured out how to talk about it yet.
Joyce says he thinks the police department did a good job of handling the situation that happened Monday night.
The councilors ultimately approved the resolution, which expresses support for the referendum petition to bring permit-less carry to a vote. Joyce says they couldn’t let the threat sway their decision.
“Being scared of violence is not a good policy-making position,” he said.
The councilors, including Joyce and Councilor John Wedlake, who both identified themselves as gun owners who enjoy shooting for sport, emphasized that they don’t oppose gun ownership. They do have concerns about dropping the training requirement that is part of getting a state license to carry a gun.
Several of the speakers who opposed the resolution dismissed current training requirements as inadequate and pointless, but Joyce said even if it doesn’t amount to much, it’s important to at least understand the legal issues associated with carrying a gun.
“It’s about the ethics,” he said. “It’s not just a snap decision.”
McNickle also believes people who carry guns should be trained.
“(As it stands) on Nov. 1, I can strap my AR15 across my back and walk into a big box store,” he said. “I would like to know that the person with the AR15 strapped across their back has at least a little training.”
Editors note: This story has been amended to clarify that Mayor Will Joyce did not volunteer information about the Kirkwood, Missouri shooting.