Earlier this month, a crowd of 30 gamers having fun at a PlayStation tournament in a New Jersey video game shop suddenly found themselves handcuffed, staring at shotguns and machine guns, and being told by law enforcement to
Shut the F up and get the F down and don't be F-ing stupid.
That was one of a string of recent swatting incidents in New Jersey that’s spurred a lawmaker to propose stiffening the penalties for the crime.
As of this weekend, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, sponsor of the anti-swatting bill that would increase penalties for the crime, has first-hand experience of it.
On Saturday, Moriarty was ordered out of his house to find himself facing guns and cops in flak jackets.
Moriarty told NJ.com that he was at home, working on his tax return, when he got a call from police dispatch, asking if everything was OK at his house.
He said everything was fine and asked why they were concerned. That’s when the caller told him that police had received a report of a shooting at his house.
Then, the dispatcher asked Moriarty to describe what he was wearing and to step outside.
This is what happened next, he told NJ.com:
I look out my front door. There's six cop cars. They have the street closed off. They have helmets, flak jackets and rifles. I walk out and walk towards them. They motion me to keep walking towards them. The minute I walked out the door, I was still on the phone with the dispatch person, I said 'I think I've just been swatted.' It just then occurred to me what happened.
Swatting is the practice of making bogus emergency calls, as a prank or as revenge, with the hopes of getting armed law enforcement or other emergency responders to descend on a victim.
Its origins are in prank calls to emergency services, but in the past few years swatting has become more embedded in the gamer community, with critics of GamerGate, gamers who live-stream on Twitch.TV, and others falling victim.
Moriarty’s bill, introduced in November, would increase penalties for “false public alarm” – also known as swatting – by upgrading the crime from third degree to second degree, boosting the current 3-5 years potential prison time to 5-10 years, and increasing the fine to a maximum of $150,000.
Following the video game store swatting, Moriarty told NJ.com that the penalties for this crime have got to be strengthened:
Under current law, somebody could end up only serving probation. If you are calling out the SWAT team, and they show up, guns blazing, at some innocent person's home, and they end up having to break the door down, I think you should go to jail for that. You're putting lots of people in danger.
Now, he’s thinking that whoever sent the cops to his door must have been inspired by reading his words:
I'm thinking someone read about the bill and some sick, evil person thought it would be funny to send the police to my house on one of these false reports.
He’s not the first person to try to fight swatting via legislation, and he’s not the first such legislator to get swatted himself.
California State Senator Ted Lieu, who was swatted in 2011, sponsored a law that would enable authorities to require perpetrators to bear the “full cost” of emergency services response, which can range up to $10,000.
Image of SWAT team (4131372991) by Oregon Department of Transportation – SWAT team.Uploaded by Smallman12q. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.