A lawsuit filed in a Michigan federal court last year challenging a state policy mandating foster parents store guns locked and unloaded will proceed, according to documents filed last week. U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney sided with William and Jill Johnson, residents of Ontonagon — a village bordering Lake Superior on Michigan’s upper peninsula — who claim the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services threatened to revoke their foster parent license if they didn’t comply.
“The policy of the MDHHS, by implementing requirements and restrictions that are actually functional bans on the bearing of firearms for self-defense, both in and out of the home, completely prohibits foster and adoptive parents, and those who would be foster or adoptive parents, from the possession and bearing of readily-available firearms for the purpose of self-defense,” Maloney wrote in a 28-page opinion filed last week. “This violates Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.”
The Johnsons became foster parents at the request of the state after taking custody of their grandson last year. When the couple arrived to pick up the boy from MDHHS custody, however, caseworkers searched William Johnson, demanding to see his concealed pistol license and a list of serial numbers for all of his firearms. When Johnson, a 100-percent disabled veteran, questioned the legality of the policy, agency officials told him “if you want to care for your grandson you will have to give up some of your constitutional rights” or MDHHS will “take his grandson and place him in a foster home.”
Two weeks later, a Gogebic County Court judge said during a custody hearing of the gun policy, “We know we are violating numerous constitutional rights here, but if you do not comply, we will remove the boy from your home.”
The Johnsons and fellow Ontonagon couple Brian and Naomi Mason filed a complaint against MDHHS, alleging the policy violated their constitutional right to bear arms. The Masons joined the lawsuit — backed by the Second Amendment Foundation — after claiming the policy discouraged them from applying to become foster parents.
“The statements from the caseworker and judge are simply outrageous,” said SAF founder, Alan Gottlieb. “This amounts to coercion, with a child as their bartering chip. I cannot recall ever hearing anything so offensive and egregious, and we’ve handled cases like this in the past. Blatantly telling someone they must give up their civil rights in order to care for their own grandchild is simply beyond the pale.”
Maloney dismissed the Masons from the case last week, insisting the couple lacked standing. Proceedings will move forward for the Johnsons and the SAF, however. The couple seeks injunctive relief and attorneys fees.
“Storing firearms in an inoperable condition makes them useless for the defense of hearth and home, which implicates the Second Amendment…,” Maloney wrote last week. “The need for self-defense rarely comes with advance notice; it occurs spontaneously, often at times specifically chosen for the expected vulnerability of the intended victim.”