The employee was filling out paperwork for Old Saint Nick to carry a firearm, the sheriff’s office implied.
The tweet, which was meant to advertise concealed handgun permits, was swiftly met with outrage and condemnation. Three hours later, the department in Colorado Springs apologized. The original post has been commented on or shared more than 5,000 times.
“EPSO intended to highlight our staff in the Concealed Handgun Permit Office, not to be insensitive,” the sheriff’s office tweeted. “Santa correlates to the month of December and we thought he would help to recognize our hard working staff.”
Critics on Twitter pointed out that the post came just three days after the country’s latest deadly school shooting. Police in Michigan said 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley opened fire at an Oxford high school on Tuesday, killing four classmates and injuring seven others. He was charged as an adult on Wednesday with first-degree murder and terrorism. He pleaded not guilty.
Crumbley’s father purchased the 9mm pistol on Nov. 26, just days before the shooting, according to authorities. Both of Crumbley’s parents now face charges of involuntary manslaughter. They pleaded not guilty.
The day after the sheriff’s department post about Santa, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) was lambasted for a his own gun-themed Christmas post. He shared a family portrait on Twitter on Saturday showing each family member holding a long gun and a caption that read: “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.” Democratic and Republican politicians criticized Massie, calling the post insensitive in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting.
El Paso County’s Colorado Springs was the site of a mass shooting seven months ago, when police said 28-year-old Teodoro Macias walked into a birthday party and began firing. He killed six people before turning the gun on himself. Over the past three decades, Colorado has been disproportionately plagued by gun violence, with at least eight mass shootings, The Washington Post found.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office’s tweet featuring Santa encouraged residents to learn more about concealed handgun permits.
“Did you know the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has issued 49,750 Concealed Handgun Permits with another 2,560 awaiting to be issued?” the Friday tweet said.
Thousands responded, including one man who noted he was attending a ceremony in honor of last week’s school shooting victims.
“I’m sitting here in downtown Oxford, MI, waiting for the candlelight vigil to start to pay tribute to 4 students who were murdered by a handgun smuggled into the school,” he tweeted. “But by all means, tell kids Santa carries a concealed weapon.”
Many agreed that the Santa imagery was what they found most inappropriate about the tweet.
“I don’t think the idea of Santa needing a handgun is as uplifting as you think it is,” another person tweeted.
“What is your message to children here?” another added. “Santa has a legally concealed weapon? For protection against elves, reindeer, children who take a peek on Xmas eve? There is enough anxiety among children already.”
One woman, who said she is a resident of the county, said she was “embarrassed and mortified” by the tweet.
“Just delete this,” she wrote.