Taiwanese national Sun An-tso (孫安佐) was arrested in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, on March 27 after he reportedly told a classmate, “Don’t come to school on May 1, because I’m going to shoot up the school.” The 18-year-old’s defense attorney and mother have been quick to call the threat a “joke.” Calling this a joke shows willful ignorance of the situation and the current climate in the U.S.

If Sun’s threat was a joke, why did he have ammunition in his possession? Why was he so interested in military-style gear? If not for the other student being alarmed by the “joke,” particularly after Sun asked about buying a gun, the Philadelphia suburb may have had a more serious problem to deal with.

Obviously, there’s more to this than just Sun’s poor attempt at humor. The situation also reveals more glaring holes in current gun laws in the U.S. that allowed this teenager to purchase ammunition and gear without anyone alerting authorities. Unfortunately, each of the items found during the police search, which included a military-style ballistic vest, a crossbow with scope and light, 20 rounds of 9mm ammunition, a military ski mask, an ammunition clip loader, a garrote and other items, are not illegal on their own, but, as Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood stated, “[W]hen you add it all up, it shows a pattern of potential horrific, horrible acts that could be committed.”

It also brings into question the fact that the host family Sun was living with took no notice of his activities. Even police were disturbed that he was able to obtain all the items he had without anyone noticing, with Chitwood saying, “Something’s wrong somewhere. Someone’s not watching.”

Sun’s defense attorney, Enrique Latoison, claims that Sun was unaware of the seriousness of his so-called joke because the teen did not grow up in post-Columbine America. But that wouldn’t excuse his ignorance of the recent school shootings that have made national news since his arrival in September. Latoison added, “He’s only been here five months. He doesn’t get it like we get it.” This is a weak argument for either willful ignorance or a cognitive disability that would allow someone to not understand the difference between a threat and a joke.

Nor does his alleged ignorance excuse the fact that his threat was made two days after the nationwide March for Our Lives protest to support tighter gun control measures that is being counted as one of the largest rallies in American history. Students his age around the U.S. have been speaking out against gun violence, and he decided it was an appropriate time to make a joke about bringing guns to his school. He may not have known about Columbine, but it would be difficult for him to not know about the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people on Feb. 14.

This is a student who has likely led a sheltered life. His mother, TV and Taiwanese opera actress Di Ying (狄鶯), told media in Taiwan that a prop gun police found in her son’s room was given to him in Taiwan because he wanted it as part of a “black ops” Halloween costume. U.S. media, however, has not reported that Sun was in possession of a firearm, so it is complicating the matter when his mother claims he had one, albeit a prop.

What mother gives her teenage child a gun before traveling internationally? And how lax is security at Taoyuan Airport to allow a gun to pass through?

His mother also claims that the so-called joke may have been a misunderstanding due to the language barrier. How much of a language barrier is there for a shooting threat? Saying “just kidding” after telling a classmate not to come to Bonner & Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill on May 1 because he was going to shoot up the school does not make any of this OK. If Sun doesn’t understand the inappropriateness of such a joke, then he needs more than just English lessons.

Consider for a moment if the countries and nationalities of the students were reversed. How would Taiwanese react if an American exchange student made a similar threat in Taiwan? Would authorities give the student a slap on the wrist because he was joking or would they take the threat seriously and take the student into custody?

Also consider how Taiwanese media would frame the incident—most likely with sensationalized headlines; whereas their U.S counterparts are using statements of fact as headlines in Sun’s case. Keep in mind that the foreign community, if the roles were reversed, would be quick to denounce such a situation in Taiwan. And they would be right to do so.

Aside from the abovementioned items the Upper Darby Police Department found in Sun’s room, they also checked his school-provided iPad search history and discovered he had researched how to purchase AK-47 and AR-15 rifles.

In response to the items found in Sun’s room, his attorney said, “Those items have a harmless context” because they were part of a Halloween costume. This is another statement of willful ignorance. Generally, people use fake or mock-up items for Halloween rather than purchase the real thing, especially when the costume is worn to school.

It takes a special kind of mental gymnastics to justify any of Sun’s actions. Authorities in Taiwan should investigate his parents as they have enabled his behavior. Just because his parents were thousands of miles away, does not mean he should have had the ability to do anything he pleased.

If convicted, Sun faces up to five years in prison. Joke or not, his actions deserve punishment. And Taiwan should not make light of the situation or attempt to justify the incredible ignorance that Sun has shown.

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Editor: David Green