Watch Where You Point That ‘Scope: Police Mistake Telescope for a Gun

Universe Today – by Nancy Atkinson

One more thing amateur astronomers might need to worry about besides clouds, bugs, and trying to fix equipment malfunctions in the dark – and this one’s a little more serious.

Earlier this week, two students at North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo, North Dakota were setting up a telescope and camera system to take pictures of the Moon when armed police approached them. The police officers had mistaken the telescope for a rifle.  

Levi Joraanstad, a student at North Dakota State University displays his telescope, which police mistook for a rifle. Image via WDAY TV, Fargo, North Dakota. Students Levi Joraanstad and Colin Waldera told WDAY TV in Fargo that they were were setting up their telescope behind their apartment’s garage when they were blinded by a bright light and told to stop moving.

Initially, they thought it was a joke, that fellow students were pulling a prank, and because police were shining a bright light at them, the two students were blinded.

Police said that an officer patrolling the area had seen what he thought was suspicious activity behind the garage, thinking that one of the students’ dark sweater with white lettering on the back looked like a tactical vest, and that the telescope might be a rifle.

Police added that their response was a “better safe than sorry” approach, and they said the two students were never in any danger of being shot.

However, Joraanstad and Waldera said since they thought it was a joke, they initially ignored the order to stop moving and kept digging in their bags for equipment.

“I was kind of fumbling around with my stuff and my roommate and I were kind of talking, we were kind of wondering, what the heck’s going on? This is pretty dum that these guys are doing this,” WDAY quoted Joraanstad, a junior at NDSU. “And then they started shouting to quit moving or we could be shot. And so at that moment we kind of look at each other and we’re thinking we better take this seriously.”

If the police had acted more aggressively, the outcome could have been tragic. Joraanstad said the officers were very apologetic when they realized their mistake, and they explained what had happened.

So, watch where and how you point your telescope.

This is a rare occurrence, of course, and is nothing like risks amateur astronomers in Afghanistan regularly take to look through a telescope and share their views with local people. We wrote an article — which you can read here — about how they have to deal with more serious complications, such as making sure the area is clear of land mines, not arousing the suspicions the Taliban or the local police, and watching out for potential bombing raids by the US/UK/Afghan military alliance.

UPDATE: Maybe incidents like this aren’t quite as rare as I thought. Universe Today’s Bob King told me that just two weeks ago he was out observing in the countryside, when a very similar event happened to him. “A truck pulled up fast, with bright lights blinding my eyes and then the sheriff walked out of the car,” Bob said. “I quickly identified myself and explained what I was up to. He thought I was burying a dead body! No kidding.”


Source: WDAY TV

8 thoughts on “Watch Where You Point That ‘Scope: Police Mistake Telescope for a Gun

  1. Ahh , even IF it were a rifle
    What were the cops going to do ?
    I’m not going to claim I know north Dakotas gun laws because I’m sure they are infringements and mean nothing
    So IF it were a rifle , they were OC’ing it
    What would be the big deal … Officer

  2. Forget Adam-12, Starsky & Hutch, and all your comic book heroes as well.

    Grow up, and realize that when you see a badge pinned on someone’s chest it identifies the wearer as a psychotic serial killer, looking for any excuse to blow you to pieces.

    Make sure the stinking pig bastard is in YOUR rifle sights long before you’re in his pistol range. That’s the only safe way of dealing with pigs — keep the barrel pointed straight at the sick bastard, and you may survive the encounter.

    1. Can anyone in their right mind claim that the telescope in the photo looks anything like a rifle?

      That interpretation can only be made by someone looking for an excuse to shoot people. There were probably too many surveillance cameras nearby, or those kids would be dead, and the psychotic pig bastards would have been dancing and exchanging high-fives over their corpses.

  3. What a maroon….Those cops were looking to justify their outrageously high salaries and EXISTENCE. Another missed opportunity…sigh

  4. “… they said the two students were never in any danger of being shot.”

    The pigs thought it was a rifle and didn’t instantly “fear for their (miserable, worthless) lives”? RIGHT!!!

    Those kids are lucky they weren’t already in the coroner’s wagon before the morons figured out it wasn’t a gun.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *