Jonathan Pring just wanted to do the right thing.
After seeing the news of the massacre in Las Vegas, the 36-year-old Phoenix resident and native of Britain decided he no longer felt comfortable keeping two firearms in his house. On Tuesday, he called the Phoenix Police Department and voluntarily handed over his guns, documenting the moment with a series of photos on Facebook and a heartfelt message.
"I hope my actions inspire others. If we can achieve a safer world for our children, we will have done a good thing," Pring wrote.
It was a carefully considered decision in the wake of a national tragedy that left 59 people dead and hundreds wounded. Yet Pring's reward was a torrent of online abuse, threats, and harassment from gun owners and right-wing fanatics who populate the social network.
After the hateful comments started pouring in, Pring deleted his original post. But it was too late: Many people had copied his message and downloaded the photos of him handing over the guns to a police officer. Since Tuesday, thousands more have shared the images, often with sneering, offensive, and occasionally threatening commentary.
"Someone needs to go shoot this idiot and make him wish he could have defended himself," Brandee L. Harris wrote, her profile photo set to a "Pray for Las Vegas" flag filter.
Another commenter, Summer, wrote, "Yep so now that this is ALL OVER social media, how long is it gonna take for him to be victimized and beg for his guns back."
"They need to send his ass packing back to Britain," wrote Tom Gordon.
One person even managed to find Pring's home address and posted it on Facebook, accompanied by a flaming all-caps message encouraging people to break in.
This is to say nothing of the thousands of comments that simply direct verbal abuse at Pring, rather than wishing him and his family outright harm.
Facebook has a swirling morass of conservative groups, and the social network's not-so-subtle mob mentality definitely helped facilitate the harassment. Every time an outraged Second Amendment supporter posted Pring's photos to a parodic right-wing group — "Liberty Den of the American Patriot," for example — the post would get picked up and shared hundreds of more times.
It's impossible to say how many people have seen Pring's photos and message at this point. Pring owns a local kid-friendly coffee shop in downtown Phoenix.
He explained in the Facebook message that he paid a lot of money for his Walther Arms PK380 and Ruger 10/22 tactical rifle and enjoyed shooting them at the range. Yet the more civilians who own guns, the more likely it is that mass shootings of the kind that happened in Vegas will occur.
Pursuant to state law, Arizona police departments are required to sell guns that are turned over to them — they cannot destroy them.
The harassment is so bad that it actually seems to have caused Pring to leave Phoenix temporarily. He could not be reached for comment; however, he did tell 12 News that as a result of the abuse, he and his wife and son "left Phoenix for a few days."
And for all of the trollish jeers about Pring leaving his home defenseless, he specifically addressed this in his original Facebook post.
"To any would be home invaders, watch out," Pring wrote in his message. "I just bought a brand new Slugger."
Update: Pring got back to us, saying he’s been “laying low” out of town, but he has additional thoughts to share on the social media frenzy.
A new public statement on Pring’s Facebook page describes how his personal decision to hand over the guns “blew up” online and in the local news before the comments turned intensely negative.
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“At 2000+ shares I reluctantly deleted the post because people started posting my address online & threatening my family," Pring wrote. "I received several hundred messages, emails & texts. Some very lovely and supportive. Most were real stupid and mean. Few offered any alternative solutions to the problem. Took the family out of town to escape the heat (in every sense).”
“I'm not sure what happens now,” he added. “I don't feel quite at home here as I have over the last decade.”
Pring also questioned the logic of the people sending threatening messages.
“Many of the negative comments I received mentioned 'bad guys.'" he wrote. "I ask you, if you are the person sending me threatening and hateful messages simply for expressing my 1st Amendment rights, perhaps it is you who is the bad guy?” he said.