Lots of controversy over Police Chief's gun videos
GILBERTON - Two controversial YouTube videos filmed by Gilberton police Chief Mark Kessler have plenty of people watching, with one video getting thousands of views as more people hear about it.
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, there were 16,436 views of Kessler's second video titled, "Chief Mark Kessler, I'm sorry for hurting feelings," up from 3,280 views at 10 p.m. Monday. According to YouTube, both videos were posted July 15. The first video has had 3,317 views as of Tuesday afternoon.
The second video is Kessler's response to comments made by viewers of the first video, which criticized comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the Obama administration would sign a United Nations treaty on arms regulation - passed by the U.N. General Assembly on April 2 - despite bipartisan opposition in Congress. The treaty includes establishing national rules that would regulate arms brokers and attempt to control transfer of conventional arms and their components.
While the treaty does not control the use of weapons within each country, opponents believe it will lead eventually to stricter gun control.
In both videos, Kessler uses profanity and fires automatic weapons.
Kessler spearheaded an effort in January to have Gilberton Borough Council unanimously adopt a resolution in support of the right to bear arms as declared in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"I think the video is in support of the Constitution - the support of the First Amendment, the right to express your thoughts and words freely without reprisal from any government," said Kessler in a phone interview from Texas, where he is vacationing. "That's why I used the vocabulary I did. As for the firing of the guns, that is my Second Amendment right. I have the right to keep and bear arms regardless of what the government says that I don't. I didn't write the Constitution, and there is nowhere in the Constitution where it gives any government the right to regulate freedom of speech and expression and the right to bear arms. Like I said, I didn't write the Constitution. I just try to follow it."
Kessler said the videos are his commentary on constitutional freedoms and do not carry over to his duties as police chief.
"You don't see me going out and dragging people out of their vehicles and beating on them. You don't see me doing anything like that," said Kessler, referring to YouTube videos that show police committing violent acts. "Did I use some vulgar language? Absolutely. Is it my right to do that? Absolutely. It's the First Amendment. Did I fire off a gun? Absolutely. Was I shooting at anyone? I was not. That's my right under the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms. Some people are just trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, as far as I'm concerned."
Gilberton Mayor Mary Lou Hannon said she had viewed the videos Tuesday morning at Borough Hall with Councilmen Lloyd George and Robert Wagner and borough Secretary Tina Antalosky. Shortly afterward, she released the following statement to the press:
"It would be terribly inappropriate to comment upon or restrict what our employees do in their free time," Hannon wrote.
"As you may already know, the Borough of Gilberton supports the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution, and therefore has made no law which would impede its employees' First Amendment rights," the press release continues. "Anyone asking the borough to take action against the chief, when he has committed no illegal act, no violation of policy and no misuse of borough time, is asking that we establish an official political view of the borough and impose it upon one or more of our employees, which would obviously be unconstitutional. Each member of council, each employee and each citizen is not only entitled to their own political opinions but also the right to express them. We will not take action to quash free speech, whether or not each member of council or any member of council agrees with it."
Kessler also serves as a member of the North Schuylkill school board. Board President Charles "Chaz" Hepler said there is no comment since he had not seen the videos.
"Right now, as a school board, we don't have any comment yet," Hepler said. "We haven't been able to meet with Mark since he is away."
On April 6, the first meeting of the Constitution Security Force, a local group in support of the U.S. Constitution and Second Amendment, was held at the Friendship Fire Company in Englewood. The meeting was called by Kessler and included invitations to GOP candidates Christine A. Holman, who is running for Schuylkill County district attorney, and Patrick Reynolds, who is running for county sheriff. Both were asked to attend due to their strong stances in support of the right to keep and bear arms.
"I have not seen the video," said Holman in a prepared statement. "I do not watch YouTube and any questions about the video should be directed to Mark Kessler. The rally I attended had nothing to do with the video and I accept many invitations to tout my attributes to become the next district attorney."
She also said, "I have known Mark Kessler for a while in his position as chief of police of Gilberton. He heard I was running for district attorney and invited me to attend a Second Amendment rally at the Friendship Fire Company."
Reynolds said he had not seen the video and had no plans to do so.
"As a Pennsylvania state constable, I know Mark Kessler as a fellow law enforcement officer and a fellow Second Amendment supporter," Reynolds in a release. "I was invited to speak at a meeting in Frackville in April where the subject was our Second Amendment rights. I am and always will be a strong believer in all of our constitutional rights. Speaking at a public meeting, going to a firing range, and working side by side with another law enforcement professional in no way affiliates me with the vulgar video posted on YouTube."
Reynolds added, "My mission at the moment is to become your next Schuylkill County sheriff and my association with Mark Kessler should have no bearing on my race or my ability to run the Schuylkill County Sheriff's Office. We need to stop making this video a political issue, as the other side is trying to make it, in a race which Mark has no input, affiliation, or a position within my campaign."