In Missouri, your window of legal liability for standing outside your mansion waving a gun at people is clearly quite small. Court documents reveal that Patricia McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor second-degree harassment and faced a $2,000 fine, while her husband pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and was facing a $750 fine.
Having launched himself into the national spotlight on his front lawn, Mark McCloskey’s follow-up is a run for U.S. Senate, which he announced in May. The now-iconic image on the new website refreshes our collective memory and puts his campaign in its historical context.
All of this should serve as a reminder that gun culture in the United States is unlike that of any other nation in the world.
Incidents such as the one created by the McCloskeys, which should serve as a national sense check of how desensitized we have become to gun violence instead propel a candidacy for the world’s greatest deliberative body.
Should McCloskey win his bid to become a senator, he would be a perfect fit in a group of lawmakers who have done nothing legislatively to decrease gun violence in the United States. A Washington Post study found that 2021 has already been a horrific year for gun violence, with more than 8,100 people killed over the first five months of the year.
As to the McCloskey case itself, even a cursory glance shows that it was a legal mess from the onset. The prosecutor never asked the couple to surrender the guns that were brandished in the incident, even though it originally looked as if they would be charged with a felony weapons count. This same prosecutor was removed from the case by the trial court judge, and the decision was later affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court. After the appointment of a special prosecutor, the original prosecutor now faces a disciplinary hearing and the loss of her law license for her efforts to prosecute the former governor, also a Republican.
Because of how polarizing and politically charged gun incidents such as the one involving the McCloskeys are today, we often lose sight of the actual law.
Section 571.030(4) of the Revised Statutes of Missouri states that anyone who “exhibits, in the presence of one or more persons, any weapon readily capable of lethal use in an angry or threatening manner” has “commit[ed] the offense of unlawful use of weapons.”
Yet even with a clear violation of the statute, the McCloskeys were ultimately charged with misdemeanors rather than felonies. In charging McCloskey with fourth-degree assault rather than a more serious assault charge, this was kept out of felony territory. This was very important because a felony charge could have jeopardized their license to practice law as well as their ability to own and operate their law firm.
What will surely be lost in the news of the governor’s pardon is that Mr. McCloskey was brandishing a variant of the AR-15 assault rifle. Arguably no weapon in American history not only has caused so much death and physical destruction but has also torn through the American body public like the AR-15.
This assault rifle is unparalleled in its ability to kill so many people so effectively. A powerful piece in The Atlantic by a trauma surgeon who treated victims of the Parkland massacre drives home what makes the weapon that was in McCloskey’s hands so deadly. It is in every sense a Volksweapon, something that even a relative firearms novice can turn into a domestic weapon of mass destruction.
While the Missouri governor pardoned the McCloskeys, history will see that day not as a great day where individual liberty was affirmed but simply a day where a national tragedy was averted and the people who might have caused it suffered no consequences. And while a pardon was certainly within the legal authority of the Missouri governor, the message it sends is a counterintuitive one in 2021, a time when gun violence is at an all-time high.
Aron Solomon is the head of strategy for Esquire Digital and the editor of Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was the founder of LegalX, the world’s first legal technology accelerator.