TRAVERSE CITY — A growing list of people are calling for the resignation of Grand Traverse County Commissioner Ron Clous after he displayed a rifle during a livestreamed public meeting.
As of Thursday evening, about 100 people had signed a letter calling for both Clous and commission Chairman Rob Hentschel to resign. By Friday morning that number had grown to 300 signatures.
The incident took place during a commission meeting Wednesday when a Traverse City resident Keli MacIntosh was giving public comment regarding a Second Amendment resolution passed by the board in March. She was unhappy that two members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group, spoke at the earlier meeting. She asked the board to make a statement denouncing the group.
Clous left his seat as she spoke and brought the gun back, holding it in view of his webcam.
MacIntosh, who said she felt threatened by Clous' action, filed a report with the Michigan State Police on Thursday.
"I'm not sure if I'm the only victim here," MacIntosh said. "Everybody who was watching that is a victim."
Traverse City attorney Michael Naughton authored the letter that was sent to county commissioners on Friday, as well as to the Record-Eagle.
“A public official acting in a public capacity brandishing a weapon to a person making public comment is anathema to our Constitutional rights,” Naughton said.
Naughton said the letter has gotten a groundswell of support, and not just from non-gun owners.
“Gun owners are enraged because guns have to be used responsibly and respectfully and not at public meetings,” Naughton said.
It is especially egregious that the gun was brought out while someone was exercising their right to speak at a public meeting, he said.
“When someone responds with a firearm it’s a huge First Amendment issue, not a gun rights issue, not a Second Amendment issue,” Naughton said.
Clous did not return calls for comment. Hentschel on Thursday called the issue highly partisan and said only Democrats are objecting to Clous’ actions. The party is doing a call-to-arms by artificially inflating the incident, he said.
“In context, what he did was not threatening,” Hentschel said. “It was a very bold way to make a statement, not something I would have done, but he didn’t do anything wrong. I think if a person sees a gun and regardless of context feels intimidated, I would be concerned for their mental health.”
Hentschel also is being criticized for laughing when Clous displayed the gun. The reason he laughed, he said, is that Clous held the rifle as the speaker said she appreciated that some people want their gun rights protected — something Hentschel found ironic.
Naughton doesn’t see it that way.
“He chuckled and went along,” Naughton said. “That’s not the proper response.”
Anna Dituri, who sits on the Traverse City Planning Commission, helped collect signatures.
She said if Hentschel does not step down, he needs to apologize to the community.
Dituri said she was astounded that a public commenter was treated like a joke.
“It’s just shocking to me that someone carries their position so flagrantly,” Dituri said. “This is a blatantly inappropriate use of a public position.”
Hentschel called Clous a good guy who cherishes his gun rights. He said he understands the concerns of the community and if he felt Clous was brandishing the weapon he would be leading the charge.
“I think this is blown out of proportion and can be a distraction from the progress that is being made in Grand Traverse County,” he said.
There is no policy against open carry or concealed carry of firearms at board meetings that take place at the Governmental Center.
Naughton cited a Michigan law that states “a person shall not willfully and knowingly brandish a firearm in public.” He said it makes no difference that Clous was at his home and being livestreamed, because he was serving in his role as a public official.
Naughton also said just holding a weapon where it can be seen is brandishing it.
He said he is not surprised the incident is picking up steam, drawing national attention, especially in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“This has really struck a nerve,” Naughton said. “People are really upset about this.”
Hentschel said liberals want to see the incident negatively because it pushes their agenda.
For those who watch the meeting and don’t know Clous the message might be different, Hentschel said.
“It says, ‘If you’re going to start trouble, don’t start it here,’” he said.