SB592, introduced by Senator Joan Bray (D), and HB1958, introduced by Representative Stacey Newman (D), are identical bills that propose to allow law enforcement officers to confiscate firearms, with only probable cause, when responding to domestic violence calls. In my opinion, this is a very bad bill.
This bill makes a number of changes to the law regarding domestic violence. Of concern to gun owners is the provision that, “When responding to the scene of an alleged act of domestic assault, a law enforcement officer may remove a firearm from the scene if … The law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that an act of domestic assault has occurred; and… The law enforcement officer has observed the firearm on the scene during the response” [emphasis added].
Before proceeding, I must admit that I have spent very little time looking at Missouri’s domestic violence law. It looks to be very complex and subjective, which make sense given the subject matter. I also have to admit that I have very little first-hand knowledge about domestic violence, either from a psychological or a statistical standpoint.
There are all kinds of things that worry me about this bill, starting with the subjective threshold of this power. There is nothing in here about being innocent until proven guilty. A police officer can confiscate your weapon if he has probable cause. There is no burden of proof like there is in a court of law. Let me illustrate how that might work.
You break up with your girlfriend. She is angry. The neighbors call the police because there is yelling or she calls them herself out of spite. She might even be able to do this anonymously. The police show up. They conclude there has been violence because of the yelling, or maybe she just lies to them out of spite. The police now have probable cause. Your gun rack is on the wall, you are cleaning your guns on the kitchen table, or (heaven forbid) you are openly carrying inside your house. This bill would give the police the power to collect your guns.
The next thing I don’t like about this bill is the hoops to jump through to get back your guns. The bill dictates that the police must provide information about how to reclaim your firearms, but it does not establish what that procedure is. The procedure might be (and probably is) to hire a lawyer and take the agency to court, asking a judge to order the police to return your firearms. The whole system of confiscation is broken, and this is just one more opportunity to lose your rights with minimal recourse.
Essentially, this bill is another attempt to equate gun possession with gun crime. A person with a gun is dangerous, so we’re going to take it away from him.
I’m sorry for editorializing so much more than usual, but the more I think about this bill, the more it disturbs me. It’s not just the terms of the bill itself, it is the fear behind the bill.
I don’t see why this law is necessary. If the police have sufficient suspicion of domestic violence – not just probable cause but sufficient evidence to convict – then they should arrest the perpetrator. They can sit in jail overnight or make their case before a judge. That should be sufficient time for the victim to get away, and it should be sufficient time for the victim’s lawyer to file a restraining order – again, before a judge. Perhaps I just don’t understand the mentality of continuing to live with people who assault you, but lowering the threshold for the police to disarm and control citizens is not the answer.
The last thing I don’t like this bill is that it opens the door for abuse by law enforcement. Just as the controversial PATRIOT act was hijacked for all sorts of law enforcement uses, most of them having nothing to do with terrorism, a law like this would give the police the legal tool to confiscate weapons whenever and for whatever reason they want. We are all well aware of how “probable cause” is abused today. Why would we expand the use of this abuse from otherwise illegal searches to gun confiscation?
To take away your guns, that’s why.
I oppose this bill. Please contact your Missouri Senator and also the members of the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to tell them you also oppose this bill.