Art, Leniency, and Kyle Huff
Should Kyle Huff have lost his right to bear arms after he drunkenly shot up a fiberglass moose in his small Montana town in 2000?
It’s a question I’ve been exploring, and one that lots of Slog readers have been commenting on. The Seattle Times has been pursuing the question too, and today the Times gets (almost) to the bottom of the leniency shown to Huff after the 2000 shooting incident.
Initially charged as a felony, which could have caused Huff to lose his right to own a gun for three years, the crime was reduced through a plea-bargain to a misdemeanor.
Because John Rawlings, the artist who created the moose, provided Huff with a lucky break, according to the Seattle Times:
After the attack on the moose, Huff was initially charged with a felony. The charge reflected the extent of the sculpture damage, which appeared to be well above the $1,000 threshold of property damage required for a felony. Under Montana state law, anyone convicted of a felony runs the risk of losing his or her right to own firearms for three years.
Rawlings, the artist, told police it took 70 hours of labor to repair the moose. He valued his labor at $25 an hour, so the damage initially was estimated at more than $1,700 plus materials.
But in a September 2000 letter to the board of the Moose on the Loose public arts project — in which 15 moose sculptures by different area artists were set up around town and later auctioned — Rawlings charged for only 26 hours of his labor. This put the total bill, including expenses, at $761.35.
The Times article doesn’t answer the question of why Rawlings decided to undervalue the cost of fixing the moose. Was it to give the arts organization that was paying him a break on its expenses? Or was it to cut Huff some slack?
And those questions lead right back to a more fundamental question: Would a felony charge and the temporary loss of his right to own a gun, possibly until 2005, have changed Huff’s actions last weekend?
I don’t know, but here’s something else I wonder about:
As I was writing a profile of Huff for this week’s Stranger, I was struck by Huff’s repeated interactions with art, public and personal, throughout his life.
Huff’s mother is an artist and runs an art gallery in Whitefish, Montana. At the age of 22, her son shot up a public art installation. He got out of being charged with a felony in that crime, we now know, due to the apparent generosity of an artist, John Rawlings. When Huff graduated high school in 1996, he went on to study art at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana, but dropped out before completing his associate’s degree. His best friend Dustin, however, completed a degree in fine arts at the University of Montana and is apparently a good oil painter. In Seattle, Huff talked about wanting to go to the Art Institute. He may even have applied for admission. But school officials say he never took a class there.
Was Huff, I wonder, one very, very frustrated artist?