Workers at a Pasadena machine shop say they heard a co-worker threaten to “shoot this whole place up.”
Whether Mark Edward Rutkowski made a threat of mass violence will be a decision for the court system. He’s been charged with the misdemeanor offense and faces both years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines if convicted.
What happened this week in Anne Arundel County, though, is proof that changes in Maryland’s laws on making threats of mass violence and extreme risk protection orders were positive steps toward preventing more mass shootings.
Co-workers at Gischel Machine Shop did exactly the right thing after Rutkowski made threatening comments and was fired. They went to police.
Five days later, Anne Arundel County police served Rutkowski an extreme risk protection order, authorized under Maryland’s so-called red flag law and issued by a judge convinced of a potential danger. Officers took away Rutkowski’s guns and those of his father, a gun collector. The arsenal in the house totaled 146 guns — among them an AK-47 variant.
Did co-workers, police and the courts just prevent a mass shooting?
Rutkowski says that was never his intent.
“I was just kidding,” he told a judge Wednesday in his bail review hearing.
Co-workers aren’t laughing. Neither are prosecutors. They say Rutkowski spelled out not only whom he planned to kill, but in what order.
This arrest is the result of a change approved this year by Maryland lawmakers. The revised law eliminated the need to investigate a threat’s potential danger and handed police and prosecutors power to bring charges if a threat would immediately put five or more people at substantial risk.
This is an important distinction. It made it easier for police to charge Rutkowski. He made threatening statements, and he had access to guns capable of killing everyone in that shop.
In July, the U.S. Secret Service released a report on mass shootings that found most men responsible for mass attacks in the United States in 2018 made threats. Two-thirds of the attackers also had a history of mental health issues and half were motivated by workplace or personal grievances, the agency said in a report published by its National Threat Assessment Center.
The Secret Service studied 27 incidents where a total of 91 people were killed and 107 more injured in public spaces in 2018. Among them: the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed, the attack on the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis where five were killed and the fatal attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Would the police have been unable to arrest Rutkowski
under the old language governing threats of mass violence? He says he was only kidding. Probably not.
Nor is it clear that police would have been able to take the arsenal in the Rutkowski home without Maryland’s red flag law.
Rutkowski will have his day in court. We hope he has a good lawyer. His father will get his guns back in good time.
No one can say for sure what would have happened without these laws.
We can say for certain they worked as intended.