At the nexus of protecting one’s Second and Fourth Amendment rights and the government’s interest in public safety is a Connecticut law, currently gaining traction nationwide, that would allow police to temporarily seize firearms from individuals thought to be a danger to themselves or others.
The law, enacted in 1999 following a spree killing of four managers of the Connecticut Lottery perpetrated by a mentally deranged employee, permits judges to review evidence submitted by local law enforcement to determine whether one’s Second Amendment rights should be stripped until a court hearing can be scheduled to evaluate the person’s mental well-being and suitability to possess firearms.
The hearing must be held within 14 days and during the proceedings the judge will decide to either return the confiscated firearms or authorize the state to keep them for up to a year, as the Associated Press reported.
In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, as well as the more recent spree killing in Isla Vista, California, lawmakers around the nation are taking a closer look at the Connecticut law to determine if it has the capacity to prevent future tragedies.
Specifically, the legislatures in California and New Jersey are now reviewing similar statutes. And Indiana passed a version of the Connecticut law in 2005, following the death of an Indianapolis police who was fatally shot by a man suffering with mental illness.
From the perspective of Michael Lawlor, Connecticut’s undersecretary for criminal justice for planning and policy, the law could have prevented Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza from killing 20 school children and six educators in December 2013.
“That’s the kind of situation where you see the red flags and the warning signs are there, you do something about it,” Lawlor said. “In many shootings around the country, after the fact it’s clear that the warning signs were there.”
Hindsight is always 20/20. Though, it’s worth noting that none of the mental health professionals who treated Lanza over the year saw this violent outburst coming.
“Those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior.” said Peter Lanza, Adam’s father, according to a report conducted by the state attorney general. “Here we are near New York, one of the best locations for mental-health care, and nobody saw this.”
Meanwhile, many pro-gun rights activists oppose the law, believing that it violates one’s right to keep and bear arms.
“The government taking things away from people is never a good thing,” said Rich Burgess, the president of Connecticut Carry. “They come take your stuff and give you 14 days for a hearing. Would anybody else be OK if they just came and took your car and gave you 14 days for a hearing?”
Along those lines attorney Rachel Baird, who has represented eight gun owners who’ve had their firearms confiscated by police under the law, said the law is being abused by law enforcement.
“It’s stretched and abused, and since it’s firearms, the courts go along with it,” noted Baird.
To Baird’s point, gun seizure warrants have doubled since 2010, with 183 filed in courthouses around the state last year. To put that in context, the number was nine times higher than the annual average for the first five years the law was in place.
Yet police officials believe that the law is not being abused but properly enforced and that the increase is due to the fact that more departments have recognized the power they wield to stop potential mass killers.
“With all that we see in the news day after day, particular after Newtown, I think departments are more aware of what authority they have … and they’re using the tool (gun seizure warrants) more frequently than in the past,” South Windsor Police Chief Matthew Reed told the AP. “We always look at it from the other side. What if we don’t seize the guns?”
Perhaps one could argue that another way to rephrase Reed’s argument is that when one suddenly realizes they have a giant hammer then everyone looks like a nail.