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September 21, 2009

Gunning for the President

The nation, sadly, has become well acquainted with the phenomenon of individuals bringing loaded guns to town hall meetings, presidential speeches and other political events. Initially, these shows of force were headline news and covered nationally. Recently, however, two disturbing incidents occurred that barely made a blip on even the local media radar.

On the evening of September 9, President Barack Obama was at the U.S. Capitol preparing to address a joint session of Congress on the subject of health care reform. At approximately 8:00 p.m., Joshua Bowman, 28, of Falls Church, Virginia, attempted to drive his Honda Civic into a secure area near the Capitol. U.S. Capitol Police stopped him and, searching his car, found a rifle, a shotgun and 500 rounds of ammunition. Bowman was arrested on the spot and charged with two counts of possession of an unregistered firearm and one count of unlawful possession of ammunition. An Associated Press article noted that “Bowman’s intentions were unclear.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington has stated that they have decided against prosecuting Bowman on more serious charges. It is difficult to imagine, however, what legitimate reason there might have been for bringing that kind of firepower to the Capitol when so many important elected officials were gathered in one place.

Three days later, Josh Hendrickson of Rogers, Minnesota, traveled to a rally outside the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, where President Obama was giving another speech on health care reform. Hendrickson, a concealed carry permit holder in Minnesota, was carrying a .40 caliber Glock 22 handgun in a holster on his hip, and a Kel Tec 380 in his pocket. “The Second Amendment isn’t suspended just because the president’s in town,” he explained. He was questioned by Minneapolis police and Secret Service agents, but no charges were pressed.

Hendrickson described himself as a “pretty laid-back guy,” a National Rifle Association member who always takes his keys, wallet and guns when he leaves the house. In reality, Hendrickson is a “Truther” with a violent criminal history. In fact, he was recently released after serving a 60-day stint in jail for pepper spraying a customer at the Cub Foods where he worked as a security guard. The woman had parked illegally, Hendrickson claims, and was being belligerent. “It didn’t cause a commotion,” though, he assured a reporter. Nonetheless, Hendrickson was fired, charged with fifth-degree assault, and convicted.

Nor was that his only contact with law enforcement. Hendrickson described two other incidents, one “a disorderly conduct charge involving a parking lot argument as his son’s school” and another “a dispute over a neighbor’s dog, in which police were called.” A search of the Minnesota Trial Court Public Access website reveals a total of 9 convictions for Joshua David Hendrickson, born in November 1976: 1 for 5th degree assault, 1 for Disorderly Conduct—Brawling or Fighting, 3 for Disorderly Conduct, 1 for Reckless Driving, 2 for Driving While Intoxicated, and 1 for Interfering with an Emergency Call.

Sadly, Hendrickson was able to obtain a concealed handgun permit in Minnesota and hold on to it despite this extensive criminal record. Under Minnesota law, Hendrickson’s permit could have been revoked after his conviction for fifth-degree assault. And the law would have required law enforcement to revoke Hendrickson’s permit following his DWI convictions had he been armed during either one of these incidents. Although Minnesota is a “shall-issue” state, Minnesota sheriffs are also permitted to deny permits if they believe there is a “substantial likelihood that the applicant would be a danger to self or others.”

That Hendrickson was able to avoid all these hurdles and carry handguns near the president without being arrested is astonishing. “Now I’m going to be the guy with the assault record—the gun-carrying assaulter of people who’s outside the Obama rally,” Hendrickson predicted.

On that point, he was right. The natural question is now: How many other individuals carrying guns at political events (either openly or concealed) have disturbing criminal histories? And why is the media already losing interest in what should be headline news?

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