Incoherent Rifle-Wielding Man, Blah Blah Blah

In a time when America is averaging more than one mass shooting per day*, the good people of Burlington just suffered through several weeks of a homeless man riding his bike around town with a rifle strapped to his back.

*FBI definition: four or more people shot in a single incident, not including the shooter. We’ve had 29 in July so far. 

Per Seven Days’ Mark Davis, police “found [Malcolm Tanner] to be ‘incoherent,’ and he insisted that laws do not apply to him.” But they did nothing about him because “he did not seem to be breaking any laws.”

Tra la la.

Two aspects of this.

First, of course they could have done something sooner, and I have no idea why they didn’t.

Burlington police eventually turned to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which handles federal firearms crimes. ATF agents learned that Tanner had felony convictions for theft and drug dealing in New Hampshire. Federal prosecutors filed a charge accusing Tanner of being a felon in possession of a firearm.



Um, question here.

Did it take several weeks for them to come up with the idea of checking this guy against federal databases? On the cop shows, that’s the first thing they do, right? Doesn’t anybody at One North Avenue watch “Law and Order”?

For weeks the BPD was, according to Davis, being “flooded” with calls about this potentially dangerous man. Wouldn’t they be exploring every possible option?

Second, does it perhaps reveal a teeny-tiny hole in state law that an armed, incoherent man is free to go about his business? Which might include killing a bunch of people?

The state Legislature has rebuffed Burlington’s efforts to impose very modest gun ordinances. The Tanner incident provides abundant evidence that what works in rural areas is not suitable for our largest city. Besides, local control, right? That’s a big thing from what I hear.

Also, for those who will predictably scream “Second Amendment,” I would say this: All Constitutional rights have their limits. The First Amendment protects free speech, but it is not absolute. An incoherent man open-carrying a rifle is the very definition of “shouting fire in a crowded theater.” One person’s Constitutional right does not mean that an entire city has to live in fear.

I do sympathize with the BPD on one score. Our mental health system is badly under-resourced, and there are never enough beds for those who need psychiatric hospitalization. There are occasional media reports about patients being parked in emergency rooms for days or even weeks, but you never hear about the other effect of the inpatient bed squeeze: doctors are always under pressure to discharge people who would otherwise stay in the hospital.

In addition, as BPD Chief Brandon del Pozo pointed out, “State law requires that someone be deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others to be treated against their will. And that standard, experts say, is generally a very high bar to clear.”

So it’s not just our gun laws that need a second look; our mental health statutes should perhaps get a rewrite as well. This is not a popular stance with the mental health advocacy community, but I disagree with them on this issue. Allowing a potentially dangerous person to refuse treatment does the person no good and may put other people in harm’s way. It certainly puts them in an existentially uncomfortable position.

At last report, Tanner was being held without bail pending a federal court hearing. Thanks to the rather predictable coincidence of his criminal record in another state, the BPD can finally ensure that he is no longer a danger to the people of Burlington.

But it shouldn’t have taken weeks to discover this coincidence. And we shouldn’t have to depend on future coincidences to protect us from disturbed people with guns.


9 thoughts on “Incoherent Rifle-Wielding Man, Blah Blah Blah

  1. Brooke Paige

    Is BPD Chief Brandon del Pozo attempting to “Gin Up” an Incident to further the push for Gun Restrictions in BTV ?

    Unless the Chief was trying to create an incident, this makes no sense at all! Mr. Tanner is riding around town on his bicycle for days and during that time, according to the BFP was involved in 10 incidents. During these events, why didn’t the police collect Mr. Tanners information and “run him through the system” where they would have discovered his felony record. NO, they decided to play “catch and release” with this obviously disturbed and dangerous person, I guess hoping the problem would just disappear – which it did not. One would think when he created an event in front of the Boys and Girls Club (yes, the one directed by Bill Sorrell’s former “better half”) that the police would have decided to take some modest action, like running his information through “the system,” Finally, they call in the Feds for help and it is only when they do their “due diligence” that the problem is finally resolved with Mr.. Tanner, most probably, winning a ten year vacation at the “gray bar hotel !”

    The cry for more gun regulation from the Burlington politicos seems somewhat hollow, when the police do not, or are not allowed to, use the current laws now “on the books.”

    1. Dave Katz

      One might be forgiven for the take-away that men–always men, y’notice?– strolling around with their guns out are no big deal here in the Land of the Free. Why not just try that trick with your peckers, fellas? You’ll get the appropriate corrective revulsion from society at large, and the rest of us will be a f*ck of a lot safer. Just sayin’.

      1. Brooke Paige

        Armed and Naked, in Vermont, looks like you’re “good to go?”

        Burlington just had a fellow strolling Church Street for several days “butt naked” and the police did not (could not?) do anything about it since it seems that doing so does not violate ant law; as long as you don’t strip down in public – you are good to go (so to speak) ! As to the guy with the gun, while he had a right to have the weapon in his possession, the problem arose when he create numerous (10) disturbances over several days and because of this acts – he should have been given a good “once over” which would have revealed that he was having emotional difficulties and had a felony record that prohibited his possession of the rifle!

  2. Faith King

    That’s ridiculous. The current laws on VT books are lame. Period. We all know it. Enough with the “obviously disturbed and dangerous”. Disturbed? Yep. Does that automatically translate into “dangerous”? Nope. What’s inherently “dangerous” to all sane people anywhere is the crack-pot notion that it is legal to be walking around on the public streets with a friggin firearm. That’s the problem. (Unless you’re Black. In which case, you’re likely to get blown away by the police and then have legions of White folks rise-up to defend the person who killed you.) And you know perfectly well that anybody can buy a weapon privately without a background check here in Ver-mont. So, ipso facto, it becomes irrelevant that someone “can’t” own a gun by virtue of a past felony. Why? Well duh – how would the private seller of guns (who abound in this great, green state) KNOW about the felony? Answer. They wouldn’t. They don’t have to. Thank you gun lobby. Therefore the restriction on guns ownership by people w/felonies is watered-down to the point that it’s meaningless….because Vermont lets felons buy guns LEGALLY from private sellers. So said felons can stroll or bike about with a weapon of their choice all they want. Until they get caught. You want to live in a war zone? Move to one. God knows there are plenty around the world. You like wild west movies? Watch em’ on the tube. I am sick of living in a John Wayne movie.

  3. Brandon del Pozo

    Burlington Police could not bring charges against him quickly or independently for two reasons.

    The first is that his felony convictions weren’t in any confederated database, they had to be manually searched in different ways in each state and their counties. You may be confusing arrest warrants with local court records, the former of which are searchable nationally.

    The second is that the convictions, which had to be verified with the issuing jurisdictions, make possession a federal Brady crime, one that the feds had to agree to charge and prosecute in federal court. Local police cannot bring a case to federal court unless the feds are on board, in which case federal agents will probably do it themselves. So they have to make their own case.

    Enlisting a federal partner, then having that partner search scores of databases, verify findings, confer with federal prosecutors and generate an arrest warrant from a federal judge took a few weeks. Which was relatively quick. There is a lot going on.

    Life isn’t an episode of Law and Order, where the cop part takes half an hour minus commercials.

    Chief BdP

    1. Brooke Paige

      Excuses are always easier to come up with than solutions. Chief de Pozo fails to speculate on ways that the law could be changed to help him and his department more effective in resolving such issues swiftly and fairly. Don’t tell us why you can’t do something. tell us how you can !

  4. Brandon del Pozo

    Hi, Brooke. I’ve been down to Montpelier on this issue, and my mayor has been a tireless supporter of universal background checks for years now. You can read about all this in news archives. The BPD didn’t make excuses here, we went and found a solution. We didn’t just tell you how we could, we showed you, and did it. You seem determined to see it a certain way.

    1. Brooke Paige

      Chief del Pozo,

      I am not trying to see it in any special light, I just seems unreasonable to have someone who is repeatedly creating incidents in a short period of time that are disturbing the peace and tranquility of the community without the police resolving the problem. Since the subject was acting erratically (regardless of the fact that he was carrying a rifle) it would seem that, the prudent thing to do would have been to give the situation special attention for his own sake and the best interest of the community, But according the media coverage at the time, it affair escalated over several days creating concern within the community – fortunately this incident ended uneventfully.

      Thank Heaven it did do, as the community and your department would have appeared less than proactive if it had ended with the subject or worse innocent bystanders injured or dead! I hope that this incident has allowed your department to develop more effective communication with the federal agencies that were able to provide the essential information your department needed to resolve the problem.

      H. Brooke Paige
      Washington, Vermont


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