Time to tell a story…a true story. I’m going to leave out specifics regarding locations and names, but this really happened, and I was there.
I was a cop, and I participated in a gun confiscation.
About 20 years ago, I was on a municipal police department SWAT team serving a small city near Cincinnati. One afternoon the pager (yes, pager) went off, and we all reported to the city building to gear up and be briefed on the situation.
The situation was this: A resident of an apartment in a small, four-unit building had called the PD to report that she had heard a neighbor in his apartment ranting about wanting to “kill everybody.” The complainant went on to state that she knew that the man who lived in the apartment had several guns, and that she had driven him to a local store recently to purchase a home surveillance camera kit.
Based on this single complaint, we loaded the truck and rolled the team out to the address, setting up out of sight of the building. The Assistant Chief (who held a law degree) arrived on scene and assumed incident command. The landlord was contacted for floor plans, at which time we also learned that the resident had no phone. This meant that the only options for contacting the man were to “knock and talk” or to break a window and put in a throw phone (a portable, hard line phone which can be inserted into a target location).
The concern expressed by the Team Commander and Assistant Chief was that since the suspect was presumed to be armed and have surveillance cameras, we would only get one opportunity to approach with any possibility of surprise. He was on a ground floor with a window facing the street and only entrance to the building, meaning the team would be quite exposed with about 40-50 yards to cover once we moved on the apartment. It would be extremely dangerous if he were alerted to our presence and chose to fight. So the Assistant Chief made the decision to declare “exigent circumstances,” and directed us to execute a no-knock dynamic entry with breach.
I was Number 1 on the stack, with the responsibility to ram the door immediately to clear the way for the rest of the team to enter and apprehend the suspect. To make a long story short(er), we knocked this guy’s door down, tackled and cuffed him, and took his guns…based on a single complaint from a single witness. No criminal history. No psychological evaluation. No judge. No warrant.
I don’t recall exactly how things were resolved post-incident, except for some generalities. I remember that the man ended up being released, perhaps after agreeing to a psychological evaluation. I honestly don’t remember, except that he got to go home in fairly short order. I don’t even think he was criminally charged with anything. The 14 guns we confiscated from him were eventually returned; I think it took about a week or so. Basically, it ended up being a big nothingburger.
What I do remember is that we heard no ranting coming from his apartment before we went in, and he was genuinely surprised when his door came down that night; I remember him standing in his apartment with his hands up saying, “What’s going on, fellas?” as our team sergeant tackled him.
But the overriding memory is of how easily our police department leaders…based on the uncorroborated statement of a single witness…made the decision to enter this man’s home without a warrant, to deprive him of his freedom, and to seize his property. If police conduct of this sort bothers you, then consider what will happen when police departments are given a virtual green light* with red flag laws.
*And yes, I will concede that the difference is that most red flag laws do call for a hearing in front of a judge prior to confiscation. I will also tell you that this will prove to be little more than a speed bump. Most judges will prefer to “err on the side of safety” and confiscate first, due process later. After all, this is exactly how red flag laws are designed to work.