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Once again, the AR-15-toting gun guy who took up Sunday residence last summer on Salida’s F Street showed up at the Salida City Council to comment this past Tuesday evening.  If he is to be believed, he’s on record now as saying that he’ll depart his downtown post.

AR-15-toting Danny Taylor stands on Salida’s F Street (main street) on Sunday, January 28 with a “Give no quarter” black flag and a sign saying he has Second Amendment rights given to him by God. AVV file photo.

His participation in the meeting’s public comment segment lasted on audio from approx. 13:43 to 16:13 in.  While resident Danny Taylor started with the usual bravado and subtle threats he has made during past city council appearances, this week he moved on to this comment. Readers can decide if this is a demand or a threat:

“…I do have a demand. You guys want me to move my little display back up to the highway? You guys can have your precious downtown back from the scary and intimidating boogeyman that you’ve all created.” Then, pointing at Harald Kasper, “That guy needs to resign, Harald Kasper.”

“The day he resigns, I will gladly move my roadshow back up to the highway and you guys will be rid of the big scary man with the AR-15. Thank you for your time.”

Ark Valley Voice will believe that when we see it.

According to a December 2023 report, Defending Democracy, Addressing the Dangers of Armed Insurrection, conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, constitutional scholars and attorneys analyzed what role guns play in freedom of speech.

To quote this report:

First Amendment Analysis: Guns are not protected speech

…Though the Supreme Court has not had to evaluate whether the message behind displaying a firearm would be understood by others, lower courts have not found such conduct to be protected speech. The 9th Circuit state that “typically a person possessing a gun has no intent to convey a particular message, nor is any particular message likely to be understood by those who view it,’ Michigan courts have espoused a similar view, holding that attempts to communicate messages by openly carrying firearms do not qualify as protected speech because worried members of the public did not perceive the firearm owners ‘as open carry activist demonstration their First …Amendment right,’ but rather ‘were simply alarmed and concerned for their safety and that of their community.”

A Connecticut court evaluating a case in which an individual was openly carrying a firearm while wearing a right to bear arms T-shirt, wrote that reasonable officers could disagree whether carrying the gun conveyed a message in support of the Second Amendment or if the individual was simply carrying for other purposes. In doing so, the court found that the gun carrier’s conduct was not protected by the First Amendment.

A court in Ohio also rejected that the open carry of firearms amounted to protected symbolic speech, observing that the defendant’s [having] to explain the message he intended to convey undermines the argument that observers would likely understand the message. These court findings emphasize that the right to free speech cannot be confused with a right to terrorize others and threaten public safety.

Though public spaces are afforded the greatest First Amendment protections, speech can still be governed in these areas … in the 2023 case of Counterman v. Colorado, the majority in Counterman ruled that ‘the state must show that the defendant consciously disregarded a substantial risk that [their] communications would be viewed as threatening violence, to consider their their ‘speech’ a true threat without First Amendment protections. It is important to note that though the Supreme Court in Counterman determined that the First Amendment requires proof that a defendant had some subjective understanding of the threatening nature of their communications, it does not require proof that the defendant intended to carry out the threat.”

Given this well-regarded analysis and understanding of the role guns play in relation to the 1st Amendment, we should return to the original August 27, 2023, incident covered by Ark Valley Voice. During that incident, an armed Danny Taylor was standing on the street corner directly across from the Ark Valley Voice office with a bullhorn reportedly reading one of the articles we had written about him. Numerous people in and around the corner where Mr. Taylor was using his bullhorn expressed fear and alarm that day, including the owner of the building housing AVV offices, Alison Brown. Ms. Brown suggested Taylor was in violation of the Colorado Revised Statute (C.R.S.) 18-9-106 Disorderly Conduct which relevant sections state:

(1) A person commits disorderly conduct if he or she intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

            (f) Not being a peace officer, displays a real or simulated firearm, displays any article used or fashioned in a manner to cause a person to reasonably believe that the article is a firearm, or represents verbally or otherwise that he or she is armed with a firearm in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm and does alarm another person.

In an interview with Salida Police Chief Russ Johnson conducted a few days after the incident Chief Johnson discussed the August 27 incident and specifically his rationale for why the Disorderly Conduct Statute did not apply. According to Chief Johnson, Mr. Taylor’s actions did not rise to the level of alarm deemed necessary to meet the criminal elements of Disorderly Conduct:

“In order to meet a criminal element you have to have some sort of usage or threatening matter that you’re using a weapon … I tell people that is a threatening use of something … if they are in a bank and say they have a gun and that is waved in a threatening manner  … aiming it, loading it, saying they are going to harm people, that is a threat,” explained Chief Johnson.

But the statute states the opposite. “Not being a peace officer, displays a real or simulated firearm…and does alarm another person.”

There is no requirement for Mr. Taylor to be loading or aiming the gun. There isn’t even a requirement for Mr. Taylor to be verbally threatening anyone according to the statute. There are thousands of statutes at the local, state, and federal levels outlining all manner of crimes and their elements. It is rare that a statute so keenly fits the offenses a person is committing such as outlined in this case.

But Chief Johnson and his department did have evidence showing Mr. Taylor verbally threatening others while in possession of the same weapon he was carrying on the August 27 incident.  AVV’s September 24th article showed video evidence provided to the Chaffee County Deputy District Attorney showing a previous incident that occurred on May 25 2021 on U.S. 50 involving Salida Police Officers, Danny Taylor, and another Salida resident. At one point in the video, Mr. Taylor is heard screaming at the other person “DO YOU WANT A BLOODBATH.” Taylor is also heard challenging other passersby saying “Come and take it [meaning his rifle]… You Commie M’fers.”

This is where we come full circle back to the First Amendment and guns. By his own admission, Mr. Taylor was not protesting anything. After all, what is there to protest with the Second Amendment, especially in an open-carry state like Colorado? As the the Mountain Mail stated,  “Taylor said he does not consider what he is doing a kind of protest, but rather “a normalization of our rights, so people aren’t afraid of it. It’s an exercising of our First and Second Amendment(s).”  Moreover, nearly everyone interviewed by AVV stated they have no desire to infringe on another person’s rights.

Perhaps another one of the Chief’s comments during the interview gives us some insight. The Chief said, “guns make some people feel comfortable” just as they can make others fearful and alarmed which is what Mr. Taylor appears to be suggesting in his Mountain Mail interview. This has been a common assumption among those supporting Danny Taylor and his continuing saga. This assumption has little to do with the Constitution, the statute, or this case, but has everything to do with the basis of the Constitution itself which guarantees “the Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness” to all, not just one.

So, then, what is it called when a person is standing on a street corner carrying an assault rifle screaming obscenities and threats at those who pass by? Taking pleasure from fear and intimidation comes to mind. However, the more important question we should be asking is why? Why is local law enforcement so reticent to enforce a law that is so clearly being violated. Why are they not jumping at the chance to protect their community from an obvious and present danger?

Ordinary people simply have to be – what are the words? Oh yes, “alarmed and feeling threatened”. Therein lies the boundaries of this local example of extremism and misplaced perception of what constitutes First Amendment protections. Guns are not protected speech.

Neither the general public, the F Street businesses, nor Ark Valley Voice created Danny Taylor. He is a creature of his own design, who we believe has misinterpreted the First Amendment, as have some other local authorities.

What happens next?

Editor’s note: Contributing to this news report were Ark Valley Voice Investigative Reporter Stephen Hall and Managing Editor Jan Wondra.