The online gaming community responded Monday to a fatal shooting in Kansas that sparked nationwide concern about an online prank called "swatting."
Online gamers said the incident doesn't reflect the community as a whole.
“We very much look at it as a bad thing that happened to a community, and even worse an innocent bystander who isn’t even a gamer,” Ramsey Jamoul, CEO at Wichita eSports, which hosts semi-professional video game tournaments, told Kansas.com. “I definitely think as a whole we’re pretty disheartened.”
Swatting is an internet-based prank where someone will call the police to falsely report a crime happening at a particular address, hoping it’ll draw a significant number of police officers there. It’s especially popular with the online gaming community, as gamers use the tactic to harass other online gamers. Many will use caller ID spoofing and other technologies to hide their identities while calling.
Last Friday, police said the “swatting” prank led to the shooting of a man in Wichita, according to The Wichita Eagle.
Deputy Wichita Police Chief Troy Livingston said his team was investigating whether a fatal shooting in the area was caused because of the prank.
Wichita police told The Wichita Eagle that Andrew Finch was killed after police responded to a homicide and hostage call, which turned out to be false.
“A male came to the front door,” Livingston said. “As he came to the front door, one of our officers discharged his weapon.”
Twitter users said that an ongoing feud between two gamers led to the "swatting" call. One of Finch's cousins told The Eagle that Finch didn't play video games.
Police officials are well aware of swatting. 911.gov posted a public safety information sheet about the prank. These calls often can’t be differentiated from real calls, so police must respond.
The trend has existed for more than a year. As The Guardian reported, the act of "swatting" itself is not a crime, making it hard for local law enforcement to crack down on the prank.
However, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Massachusetts, introduced a bill that would make "swatting" a federal crime. According to NBC News, Clark's bill, called the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015, would have imposed 5-year sentences for those who called in a hoax call that led to emergency responses. If there was a fatality, the sentence would be life in prison.
In 2015, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations. The bill remains in the committee.
In January 2016, Clark was a victim of "swatting," she said.
The incident, she said, was related to her introducing the bill.
“I’d heard all about swatting and have talked to the victims,” she said, according to The Guardian. “But you get a different perspective when you’re the mom standing in the doorway, with your family in the house behind you, looking at a full police response with long guns drawn on your front lawn. It gave me an idea of how frightening and dangerous this could be. And it made me more determined than ever to do something about it.”