The polarizing and powerful emotions surrounding gun ownership hit close to home Friday for University of Minnesota Professor Barbara Frey.
Frey, director of the University’s Human Rights Program through the Institute for Global Studies, was a special rapporteur on small arms for the United Nations from 2002 to 2006 and advocated for tighter gun regulation.
Last Friday, Frey started to receive “hate mail” from people, she said. At first she didn’t understand why this would appear now, because her last report had appeared in 2006.
Then she discovered an article posted online at the end of January by the National Rifle Association opposing the changes the U.N. is considering making to its Arms Trade Treaty, in which Frey and a report she had written were cited.
Since then, other articles have appeared on more extreme Web sites, Frey said.
An article on the Web site for the group Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership titled “The Enemy Within,” written by freelancer Kirby Ferris, focused on Frey and called her the organization’s “arch adversary” and referred to her ideas as “idiotic, grotesquely un-American and dangerous.”
A link was added to the article Feb. 12 connecting readers to her University Web page, which lists her office phone number and e-mail address. She started receiving e-mails that same day.
When Frey came into the office Monday, two voice messages were left on the Institute for Global Studies main office phone, which Frey believed were directed toward her.
The voicemail said: “We are out there. We are watching you girls. Keep up! We see the things you are doing! Yep, you’re [expletive],” and the second message was just whistling, according to a University police report.
Frey called campus security after listening to the voicemails, and they directed her to UMPD.
Although the University is home to many policy experts on controversial topics, it is a pretty rare situation that police are called because a faculty member feels threatened, University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said.
The officer that came to the Institute for Global Studies office to check on the situation determined that the messages were not terroristic threats.
Frey did not see all the e-mails until later, when her husband opened them and also saw that they weren’t threats, she said.
The messages were worded very carefully so they would not create legal issues, Frey said, but the intent to frighten her “was not too far below the surface.”
Frey said she had received such comments before, but this was her worst experience.
Aaron Zelman, executive director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, said having the link to Frey’s Web site was a way for people to express their opinions. He said the organization did not encourage people to contact her.
After the link, the article says: “We assume that she is open to correspondence from others.”
Gun control is an issue where people “get hot under the collar,” Zelman said, because they feel strongly that the “guardian of the Bill of Rights is the Second Amendment.”
Frey said the attempts to impugn her academic research are the most disturbing. Her work is not about taking guns away from Americans, she said. Her policies have been taken out of context, she said, and she is just being held up as a straw man in a toxic debate.