Pennsylvania appeals court rules finger-gun pointing a crime

A Pennsylvania state appeals court upheld a misdemeanor offense Tuesday against a man who pointed his finger as if it were a gun at his neighbors and pretended to shoot them for creating “a hazardous condition.” 

Stephen Kirchner made the gesture at his neighbor, Josh Klingseisen, as he walked by his yard in Manor Township, Pa., in June 2018. He raised his arm, pointed his finger like a gun and “made a recoil motion as if to suggest he had shot him,” the Pennsylvania superior court said in a Tuesday decision.  

Kirchner was issued a citation for criminal disorderly conduct on June 7 of last year after the incident when a neighbor across the street, Yvonne Rodriguez, said she felt “insecure” and decided to call police, according to the Tuesday decision. 


Kirchner’s attorneys argued that his actions should not be considered criminal because he did not intend to cause “public alarm” or create “hazardous conditions,” although his gesture was “in the rough form of a gun.”

But, in Kirchner’s appeal of the citation, the court decided that, because another woman called 911, he did cause alarm.

“Kirchner acted with a reckless disregard of creating a risk of public alarm, as evidenced by the fact that an eyewitness on a neighboring property contacted 911 because Kirchner’s actions caused her to feel insecure,” Judge Maria McLaughlin wrote in Tuesday’s decision.  

“We conclude that there was sufficient evidence that Kirchner’s act of mimicking his shooting Klingseisen created a hazardous condition,” the judge continued.

The incident, which was captured on a surveillance camera Klingseisen installed outside of his home, showed that Kirchner made the gun gesture after Klingseisen put up his middle fingers at the man “with both hands,” according to court records. 

The incident was also part of an ongoing conflict within the neighborhood. Elaine Natore, who was walking with Kirchner when he made the gesture, already had a “no contact” order against Klingseisen, although the court did not specify the reason for the order.

This is not the first time a court has found people guilty for pointing a finger gun. In 2017, a Florida court ruled that a man who pointed a finger gun at a police officer and was arrested for disorderly conduct was not protected by the First Amendment, the Miami Herald reported

Earlier this year, a man who was homeless in Palm Beach, Fla. was arrested for making finger guns at passersby and mouthing the word “boom,” The Washington Post reported. A 58-year-old man was arrested in Ohio on an aggravated menacing charge for making the motion at a driver in front of him.

In the wake of mass shootings in schools, students have also been punished for making finger gun gestures. In 2014, a 10-year-old boy was suspended from school for three days for gesturing a finger gun at a friend’s head, CNN reported. In 2013, an 8-year-old boy was also suspended for “threatening to harm himself or others” after pointing a finger gun.