Police in Texarkana, Texas arrested 24-year-old Ricky Jared Rankin for allegedly posting a photo of an AR-15 - that model of semi-automatic rifle that keeps on being used in mass slaughters across the US - to Instagram accompanied by the caption, "I'm thinking about finally going back to school," KTBS reported.
Stock image of an AR-15 modular rifle. Photo: AP
According to KTBS, the post almost immediately resulted in a police investigation, which is unsurprising given one of those rifles was allegedly used to kill at least 17 people in a massacre at a high school in Broward County, Florida last week. Per the report, they haven't determined whether the post was intended as a joke, but they have not found the firearm in question either:
Detectives immediately initiated an investigation and obtained an arrest warrant for Rankin this morning. As a precautionary step, local school districts were notified of the threats and the ongoing investigation.
Officers and FBI agents arrested Rankin outside his home on Park Lane without incident and then served a search warrant of the property. The weapon in the post has not been located, but weapons belonging to other family members in the home have been secured.
Rankin is just one of a few people who have had visits from the cops after brandishing photos of their weapons on social media lately. Earlier this week, WCTV reported the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office in Tallahassee, Florida arrested 18-year-old Kane Watson for allegedly sending a Snapchat video of himself loading a rifle with the caption, "Don't go to school."
At least three students have landed in custody in Chattanooga, Tennessee alone for threats or poorly received hoaxes on social media, per the Times Free Press, while MTN News reported the same of at least one Darby, Montana high school senior. Two other individuals were taken into custody for alleged threats to Escambia County, Florida schools last week, per the Pensacola News Journal, and another three were taken into custody in Greater Cincinnati, Ohio.
In other words, various reports of these threats or very ill-advised hoaxes on social media are coming in across the US. It's likely that the pattern is a mix of people inspired to make copycat threats or hit send on hoaxes after a high-profile mass shooting, but also increased reporting and official action taken on those threats and hoaxes. Given that one of the disputes over the US' mass shooting crisis right now is whether they are getting dramatically more common or merely dramatically deadlier, it seems pretty likely that law enforcement scrutiny of potential online threats will continue to get more intense.