Montana State University issues warning to student who witnesses said made gun threat

By: - March 21, 2023 6:51 pm

Montana State University in Bozeman. (Provided by MSU for the Daily Montanan)

A student who witnesses said threatened to shoot other students at Montana State University was given a warning for disorderly conduct after campus police said they found the threat was not legitimate.

On Thursday, March 2, MSU University Police received a call to the Strand Union Building that two males were “yelling and screaming at each other,” according to a redacted police report provided by the university to the Daily Montanan.

The incident took place at a Young Americans for Liberty information table. Young Americans for Liberty has a goal in part to mobilize conservative college students to get involved in politics and “ascend to higher office.”

The report said multiple witnesses told officers the student was aggressive, and after asking the Young Americans for Liberty group if it supported gun rights, he threatened gun violence.

“F— you, you gun people, I’m gonna shoot you all in the head,” the police report said, quoting one witness. The report said the student made a “finger gun,” according to multiple witnesses; one witness reported he pointed it and said “bang.” 

In the police report, the student admitted making a “finger gun” but denied threatening others. He told police that because Young Americans for Liberty supports gun rights, he said something like, “How would you like to be threatened with a gun or like to be shot?” 

Gun violence is a problem on college campuses in the U.S. Everytown for Gun Safety counted 244 incidents from 2013 to 2021, including 155 people injured and 86 people killed, according to a report from the Center for American Progress citing “attacks on others, suicides, accidental discharges, and shootings by police.”

MSU spokesperson Michael Becker said police determined the alleged threat merited only a warning after their investigation: “That student denied making such a threat.”

“The student who allegedly made the threat and a Young Americans for Liberty student were involved in a heated political argument,” Becker said. “Both of the students who were arguing admitted to officers of using antagonizing language.

“Officers determined no weapons were present and there was no legitimate threat of violence posed.”

Becker said officers determined the two students had committed disorderly conduct but elected to release both with warnings.

A less redacted copy of the police report provided to the Daily Montanan by the other student warned for disorderly conduct said the officer called the Livingston Probation Office about the incident.

MSU declined to answer Tuesday a question about whether the student who made the threat had a police record. Becker said the police report was the only information publicly available from University Police.

The copies of the police report redacted the identity of the student who made the threat. The report said the man appeared to be in his 50s and told witnesses he was taking classes and said members of the Young Americans for Liberty did not let him go on his way.

The less redacted copy provided by the other student said the investigation showed the student who made the threat “committed disorderly conduct by cursing at Dylan Dean for having a gun supporting booth, saying he should shoot him in the face and making a finger gun motion.”

Dylan Dean, an MSU student who was working at the Young Americans for Liberty table and the other student warned for disorderly conduct, said he disagrees with the rationale police told him for not citing the other student. Dean provided the less redacted copy of the police report to the Daily Montanan.

Dean said the student asked if Young Americans for Liberty was a pro-guns organization, and it is. Once the student heard the response, Dean said the student said, “I’m going to shoot you all in the head,” and mimed as though he was going to get a gun from his coat pocket.

He started to walk away laughing, Dean said, and he called him back because he wanted to know if the student intended to make good on his threat: “Is this guy going to come back with a weapon?”

Dean said he was shouting at the student, and said the student was shouting at him and getting spit on his face.

The police report said students at the table had called the other student a “p—y” and “chicken s—.” In the less redacted report Dean provided, he admitted he called the student a “p—y” and said he felt it was cowardly for the other student to make a threat and walk away. 

When police told Dean they were going to issue only a warning, he said they told him it was because he and others at the table had called the student back and in doing so, had antagonized the situation.

“I have strong disagreement with that rationale,” Dean said.

Dean said the reason they called him back was because he had threatened to shoot them, and the Young Americans for Liberty students wanted to know if the threat was real.

At MSU, Dean has worked the information table for roughly three-and-a-half years. He said he’s had a lot of passers by get angry and has had a lot of spirited conversations, which he enjoys.

“I like debating,” Dean said. “I’m an abrasive person. So if someone comes up to argue with me, I’m having a great time.”

However, he said he hasn’t been threatened while working the table before, and he said the increase in political violence in the U.S. makes the threat even more concerning.

“Because of that, it should be taken a lot more seriously,” Dean said.

Earlier this month, several MSU students and Young Americans for Liberty members testified at the Capitol and mentioned the threat at a hearing. The hearing was on a bill to amend the Montana Constitution to give the legislature some authority over the Montana University System. 

Currently, the Montana Board of Regents, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, has full authority to supervise public higher education.

But the students said they don’t believe MSU or the Board of Regents are looking out for their constitutional rights. Specifically, at least one student said he wants to be able to carry guns on campus to defend himself, and in an interview, Dean told the Daily Montanan the same thing.

In 2021, the Montana Legislature passed a bill that expanded the places where Montanans can carry concealed weapons without a permit, but the Montana Supreme Court said the bill didn’t apply to public colleges and universities because the Board of Regents controls them.

A look at gun myths from the Center for American Progress noted an FBI study from 2000 to 2013 of 160 active-shooting incidents showed just one was stopped by a person with a valid firearms permit, and 21 were stopped by unarmed citizens.

The committee has not yet taken action on House Bill 517, the proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula. It would need yes votes from 100 legislators in order to be presented to voters at the ballot box.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.