Dan Morain

A troubled man with a gun, and a gun-rights blogger’s tyranny

Handguns are displayed at the Smith & Wesson booth at a trade show in Las Vegas last year.
Handguns are displayed at the Smith & Wesson booth at a trade show in Las Vegas last year. Associated Press file

Cody Moore was a 19-year-old kid with a shotgun who hit a rough patch last summer, at about the same time an anonymous gun-rights advocate who goes by the handle Doe Publius decided to splay the names and addresses of 40 state legislators on his blog.

Doe Publius, whoever he or she might be, had become outraged last summer when the California Legislature approved gun-control bills, one of which requires that people who buy bullets go through brief background checks to prove they are legally entitled to own firearms.

“If you’re a gun owner in California, the government knows where you live,” Doe Publius wrote July 5. “With the recent anti gun, anti Liberty bills passed by the legisexuals in the State Capitol and signed into law by our senile communist governor, isn’t it about time to register these tyrants with gun owners?”

Proceeding to publish the legislators’ addresses, Doe Publius asked the rhetorical question: “Isn’t that dangerous, what if something bad happens to them by making that information public?” And he (or she) answered: “It’s no more dangerous than, say, these tyrants making it possible for free men and women to have government guns pointed at them while they’re hauled away to jail and prosecuted for the crime of exercising their rights and Liberty.”

By now, two decades into the internet age, we understand that there is no privacy. Implications can range from trivial to mortifying and worse. For legislators who voted for gun-control legislation, threats that bounce across the internet turn scary. Any journalist with any level of skill can find the addresses of a public official. But unlike the anonymous blogger who sought to frighten legislators, no responsible journalist would publish those addresses without a compelling reason.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who carried the bill to restrict bullet sales, is among the legislators who regularly face threats. Two beefy guys visited his L.A. home one afternoon last month. He wasn’t there, but they told a neighbor that they were Donald Trump supporters who wanted to “discuss the issue of guns and immigration.” When discussion turns to guns, “all civility goes out the window,” de León said.

When Doe Publius printed the addresses of 26 Assembly members and 14 senators, the Legislature’s lawyer, Diane Boyer-Vine, sent a letter insisting that WordPress, the blog’s platform, take it down; it complied. Doe Publius responded by retaining UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who sued. A week ago U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill of Fresno ruled that Doe Publius had the right to publish the addresses.

“When viewed in that context of political speech, the legislators’ personal information becomes a matter of public concern. When lawfully obtained, the truthful publication of that information falls within the First Amendment’s ambit,” O’Neill wrote.

Doe Publius lauded the ruling, promising in the blog to republish legislators’ addresses and declaring: “Tyrants will not be insulated from the people they claim to represent but happily rule over.”

The Legislature is planning to seek a full trial before O’Neill and elicit Doe Publius’ identity. The law is worth defending, restricting as it does attempts to intimidate judges, cops, prosecutors and other public officials by publishing their address. It was strengthened in 2002 after Los Angeles County Court Commissioner H. George Taylor and his wife, Lynda, were murdered outside their Rancho Cucamonga home, in an attack that authorities believe was linked to his work presiding over divorce cases.

In August, after legislators had passed several gun bills, Moore was arrested for fighting in public, a misdemeanor. In September, in a fight with his girlfriend, she videotaped him as he threatened state senators. Unaware that police had been alerted to the threats, Moore that day drove out of his way past the Capitol, though he never set foot on the Capitol grounds. Later that day, he was arrested at his father’s home.

Initially, Moore was charged with multiple counts of threatening to commit “a crime which would result in the death and great bodily injury” to Senate sergeants at arms, and three state senators. By happenstance, one senator named in the charging document is a Republican who regularly votes against gun-control bills, not that philosophical bent would have mattered to a gunman intent on shooting up the Capitol.

In Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gregory Haas’ courtroom on Friday, Moore readily accepted his sentence for a single felony count. By the terms of the deal, he must complete an anger management course, meet regularly with California Highway Patrol officials who are responsible for protecting California legislators, and abide by a lifetime ban on possessing firearms.

“I really don’t know what was in his mind,” Deputy District Attorney Paris Coleman said after the sentencing. Coleman added that Moore “doesn’t seem like a bad kid,” but he was “very much into the Second Amendment.”

Moore appeared in court clean cut and with tattoos on his forearms. He nodded acknowledgment when Haas said he hoped to never see him in court again. “I don’t think he ever had any intent to hurt anyone,” said his attorney, Kevin Adamson.

There’s no way of knowing whether Moore happened upon Doe Publius’ blog. And Coleman is correct; no one can know what was going on in Moore’s head. But words such as “tyrant” are flung all-too casually around the internet. Words have power. They can infect impressionable people and troubled individuals, some of whom may be armed.