On a day that we honor those who fought in defense our Constitutional rights, we’d like to shine a light on a court case in Florida that, though only quietly gaining media attention, we feel speaks quite loudly about the obstacles and prejudices veterans face back home (and echoes the current state of our inalienable rights).
Florida Carry, Inc., a non-profit carry and gun rights organization, has filed a lawsuit against the City of Daytona Beach (as well as two other individuals) on behalf of an unnamed combat veterans for unlawfully refusing to return firearms seized by law enforcement—a disturbing trend in the Sunshine state with a nickname, ‘Baker Acting’.
The lawsuit claims that the Plaintiff, who is referred to as “A.B.” in an effort to preserve the man’s privacy as well as, in his attorney’s words, to maintain “the protection of confidential mental health information and allegations by the Defendant”, reached out to a Veteran’s Assistance hotline in December 2012 for help with depression. Looking for someone to talk to, the VA hotline operator instead called the local police, who contacted the honorably discharged veteran and eventually committed him for an involuntary psychological evaluation. This included the confiscation of all of the man’s guns, which his attorneys emphasize was done without his consent. These guns, along with a bow, ammunition and some other “protective gear’ have not been returned to him.
Instead, after being released from his involuntary examination and deemed fit by mental health professionals, A.B. was told he would have to provide “affidavits from others, including additional mental health professionals” before he would see his guns again. He claims to have done just this, obtaining the requested documents, only to be informed that “the return of his property would require a court order”.
This final bit is patently false and in direct violation of Florida state law, though apparently this violation that has become increasingly common in a state that is no stranger to gun rights cases. Since a 1987, local governments in Florida have been sworn to uphold all state laws without enacting their own conflicting ones and a 2009 opinion by the Florida Attorney General made clear that continuing to detain a person’s firearms after they have cleared the state’s mental health examination is a violation of state (if not federal) law.
This decision however has not stopped local authorities from using a vaguely described mental health bill and a hard to penetrate bureaucracy to keep lawfully owned firearms in their possession a lot longer than they’re allowed to.
Known locally in Florida as the ‘Baker Act’, the Florida mental Health Act of 1971 permits judges, doctors and law enforcement to initiate up to a 72-hours involuntary mental health examination to any individual they come into contact with that they deem to be a harm to themselves or others, or has been previously diagnosed with a mental illness. With the criteria for admission largely left to the discretion of the judge or officer and no legal standard to adhere to, some have criticized local municipalities for using the law to target gun owners.
You can read the entire case filing here. When you consider that this veteran was seeking help for combat issues from what he thought were government Veterans services, only to be kicked down the rabbit hole of the American courts and trapped in this dark fairy tale of insubordination and gun confiscation, the story is particularly embarrassing. Willfully targeting gun owners or not, in this case it does appear that police have violated the law by not returning this veteran’s property upon request while the potential for such abuses in the system (the linchpin of the current mental health debate in this country as it pertains to mass shootings) is clearly evident. And with a growing population of under-served veterans already hesitant to seek help for PTSD, incidents like this only make us wonder, “if this what’s out there, who on earth would ever seek help?”
Though A.B.’s case is still developing and details remain scant, we hope that this Memorial day, Florida’s gunowners and gun rights supporters do their part to see that a man who defended our lives and liberties behind the barrel of a gun and complied with law enforcement despite disagreeing with them, gets his tools back. Sharing this story with your friends is a good start.