CA Bill Would Allow Secret Seizure of Firearms Based on Just One Complaint

July 10, 2014 - 3:34 PM

California Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner

California Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) (California State Assembly)

(CNSNews.com) -- A controversial bill currently before the California state Senate would allow the secret seizure of a state resident’s firearms based on a single complaint that they pose a risk of committing an act of violence made by “an immediate family member, licensed therapist, or licensed health care provider.”

Critics are calling the bill “draconian” and “unconstitutional”, while supporters claim it is “necessary” and “lifesaving.”

A.B. 1014, which was introduced last year by Assembly members Das Williams (D-Carpinteria) and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), allows a court to issue an ex parte gun violence restraining order and a firearm seizure warrant based on the “recent acquisition of firearms or other deadly weapons“ or the “reckless use, display, or brandishing” of firearms even if no crime has been committed.

The state Senate's Public Safety Committee passed the bill on June 24th.

“An immediate family member, licensed therapist, or licensed health care provider of a person may file a petition requesting that the court issue an ex parte gun violence restraining order enjoining the subject of the petition from having under his or her custody and control, owning, purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm or ammunition,” the bill states.

Any person who knowingly files a false petition “with the intent to harass” would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

The legislation drew increased attention after the Island Vista shootings on May 23. The mother of the shooter said she had raised concerns about her son’s mental state, but no action had been taken.

“When someone is in crisis, the people closest to them are often the first to spot the warning signs, but almost nothing can now be done to get back their guns or prevent them from buying more,” said Skinner. “Parents, like the mother who tried to intervene, deserve an effective tool they can act on to help prevent these tragedies.”

But the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) harshly criticized the legislation, calling it “one of the most egregious violations of civil liberties ever introduced in the California legislature.”

The bill “would authorize any member of the general public” – including “a disgruntled neighbor, a former employee, an ex-girlfriend, or any other scorned or vindictive individual” - to file a ‘gun violence restraining order’ against “someone they ‘think’ shouldn’t have a firearm,” the NRA said in a letter to committee members.

In addition to evidence of threats or acts of violence, the bill would also allow a judge to consider a gun owner’s past non-violent convictions when issuing a secret seizure warrant, the NRA pointed out.

Furthermore, gun owners would be given no prior warning and no opportunity to be heard until after the restraining order was issued, and the accused might have no idea of the proceedings until after their firearms had been confiscated.  It could take a gun owner up to three months to retrieve his or her weapons after it was determined that he or she posed no danger, further depriving them of their Second Amendment rights, according to the NRA.

Charles H. Cunningham, NRA’s director of state and local affairs, also pointed out that the bill would extend far past the reach of current California law. Under the current Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), “when the state Department of Justice investigates individuals suspected of unlawfully owning firearms, 7-10 uniformed officers arrive to conduct a 'knock and talk' to find out if the person has any firearms.”

In the case of A.B. 1014, however, “law enforcement officers will be entering the homes of law-abiding individuals with guns drawn and orders to seize all firearms in sight,” he noted.

“The idea that police officers will be legally obligated to treat citizens who in many cases aren’t even accused of a crime as dangerous, armed individuals is a new and disturbing innovation in the law,” Cunningham said.

The Berkeley City Council wrote a letter to Rep. Skinner in favor of the bill, comparing it to existing laws in Connecticut, Indiana, and Texas that allow “for the removal of firearms from individuals who are at risk for committing acts of violence” and said it would provide “families and law enforcement with new legal tools for temporarily restricting the ability of individuals who pose a significant risk of personal injury to themselves or others to possess firearms.”

However, Brandon Coombs, president of the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees (CAL-FFL), blasted the legislation.

“Good intentions do not make a law constitutional and this bill is plainly unconstitutional,” Coombs said, pointing to the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, which assures that “no person shall. . .be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

A.B. 1014 would allow persons to be “stripped of their firearms, without notice, based only on the allegations of another person,” he said. “People cannot be denied their constitutional right to acquire and possess firearms based on secret proceedings.”