Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Just in case, we'll take your gun

Outrageous Connecticut law allows cops to seize firearms before any crime is committed

A new report to the Connecticut state legislature shows police have used the state's unique gun seizure law to confiscate more than 1,700 firearms from citizens based on suspicion that the gun owners might harm themselves or others. The state's law permits police to seek a warrant for seizing a citizen's guns based on suspicion of the gun owner's intentions, before any act of violence or lawbreaking is actually committed.

The law was first proposed in 1998, following a mass shooting at the Connecticut Lottery Corporation that left five dead, including the gunman. Since the law went into effect Oct. 1, 1999, according to new Office of Legislative Research report, police have made more than 200 documented requests for warrants to seize firearms from citizens, and only two of the requests have been denied. The law has remained hotly debated since its passage, as some point to possible murders and suicides it may have prevented, and others worry that police would abuse the law. "It certainly has not been abused. It may be underutilized," Ron Pinciaro, co-executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, told the Waterbury Republican American. "The bottom line from our perspective is, it may very well have saved lives."

Attorney Ralph D. Sherman, who has represented several of the gun owners whose firearms were confiscated under the law, disagrees. "In every case I was involved in I thought it was an abuse," he told the newspaper. "The overriding concern is anybody can report anybody with or without substantiation, and I don't think that is the American way."

Joe Graborz, executive director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, an affiliate of the ACLU, told WND the law "continues to invest unusual and far-reaching powers in police authority that does not belong there" by requiring "police to act as psychologists in trying to predict and interpret behavior." "What is the standard of proof on this?" he asked. "The way this law is written, it can and will be easily abused by police."

Under the statute, dubbed the "turn in your neighbor" law by opponents, any two police officers or a state prosecutor may seek a warrant, following a specified process of investigation, to confiscate guns from people deemed a risk to harming themselves or others. The vast majority of cases, however, begin when a person - usually a spouse or live-in, according to the OLR report - file a complaint.

Shortly after the law was passed, Thompson Bosee of Greenwich, Conn., had his guns and ammunition seized by police. Bosee told WND in 1999 he suspects a neighbor, with whom he has had words regarding the neighbor's driving on Bosee's property, might have reported him. "They had a warrant for my guns, they arrested my guns," said Bosee. A member of both the NRA and the American Gunsmithing Association, Bosee said he works on his guns in his garage and is not ashamed of it. Although Greenwich Police would not comment, they released a list of the guns and ammunition they seized from Bosee, including six handguns, three rifles, one shotgun, one submachine gun and 3,108 rounds of ammunition.

The new OLR report shows that in most cases, relatives or neighbors of the gun owner filed the complaint when they feared for their own safety or feared the owner was suicidal. In a case from Southington, however, a man had his gun taken for threatening to shoot a dog. Attorney Ralph Sherman told WND the law's cruelty to animals justification for gun seizure worries him. "If I throw a rock or a newspaper at a dog in my yard or in my garden, that doesn't mean I'm mentally unbalanced," he said. "What if a neighbor doesn't like me and sees that?"

In October 2006, according to the Republican American, police obtained a seizure warrant after a man made 28 unsubstantiated claims of vandalism to his property. The police application for seizure described the man as paranoid and delusional, citing extensive self-protection measures installed on the man's property, including alarms, cameras and spotlights. Four months after the man's guns were taken, a judge ruled that police had failed to show the man posed any risk and ordered the guns returned. According to the ruling, the gun owner had no history of documented illness, criminal activity or misuse of firearms. "In fact, the firearms were found in a locked safe when the officers executed the warrant," the ruling said.

The law dictates that courts hold a hearing within 14 days of a seizure to determine the eventual fate of the guns. In most cases, according to the OLR report, the guns are held for a period of up to a year, destroyed or sold. The Republican American reports that in 22 of the more than 200 cases, the guns were ordered returned.

Connecticut State Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, House chairman of the Judiciary Committee and one of the chief authors of the law, told the Republican American he wasn't aware of any pending challenges to the law's constitutionality. "The whole point was to make sure it was limited and constitutional," he said. Sherman however, said the law hasn't been challenged yet, simply because it is used sparingly and a test case would prove too costly for the average gun owner.


Brother-in-law's killing was self defense, Ohio jury finds: "A Ross County jury found last night that a man acted in self defense when he shot and killed his brother-in-law. Jurors returned after three hours to find Bernard Holbrook, 64, not guilty of murder in the April 16 slaying of Jay Broughton, 53, near Adelphi. Holbrook claimed he was defending himself from a possible assault when he shot Broughton in the chest and abdomen with a handgun. The two men were neighbors on Bull Run Road and long had feuded over a disputed debt and other matters, authorities said. The three-day trial was before Judge Scott Nusbaum in Ross County Common Pleas Court." [Background details here]

CA: Intruder shot, killed: ""One of several men who stormed a suburban home Friday was shot dead by one of the residents, who blasted the intruders as they entered, in an incident police were calling a home-invasion robbery attempt. Three or four men kicked in the door of the house in the 24300 block of Burbank Boulevard, setting off the gunfight, Los Angeles police said. Aside from the one intruder killed, no one was injured. 'Obviously, these residents here do have a right to protect themselves,' said Los Angeles police Lt. Steven Sambar. 'Those people are extremely lucky.'"

Society for the patron saint of guns likes the Heller verdict: ""Last month's historic Supreme Court gun rights decision is a blockbuster development for the right of individual self-defense in religious as well as secular spheres of interest," John M. Snyder, Founder-Chairman of the St. Gabriel Possenti Society, Inc. declared here today. "All of the Justices who voted in the 5-4 majority for individual gun rights are Catholic," Snyder noted. "In the United States, institutional Catholic Church leaders have been on the wrong side of the right to arms for self-defense issue. The Social Development and World Peace Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supports prohibition of the importation, manufacture, sale, possession and use of handguns. Individual clergy, including bishops, also have gone off the deep end on this issue. Let them listen to the solid gun rights majority of Catholic Supreme Court Justices. Let them consider that the right to life does not end with birth but continues throughout natural life and includes the right to self-defense and the right to arms for self-defense."

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