Following the school shooting in Parkland, the Florida legislature wasted no time in passing a law that would enable the police to seek a court order to confiscate firearms from an individual considered to be a risk to themselves or others. The gun confiscation in Florida measure was signed into law by Governor Scott on March 9, 2018.
Broward County, the county where the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting occurred, wasted no time in taking advantage of this controversial new law. Within the first three weeks after enactment, nine cases had been filed seeking the temporary confiscation of firearms of people considered to have exhibited warning signs of violence.
And now, one of their own has been caught up in the new confiscation law.
On May 25, 2018, the Broward County Sheriff’ Department sought an order against a Broward County Sheriff’s bailiff, Franklin Pinter, a civilian employee of the department for 26 years. In a hearing held without Pinter’s knowledge that same day, the judge found Pinter to be a threat and issued the emergency restraining order, allowing the Broward County Sheriff’s Deputies to seize 67 firearms, ammunition, and Pinter’s concealed weapons license from the home of Pinter.
The evidence presented in affidavit form against Pinter included statements that earlier in the month, one bailiff alleged that while delivering documents to Pinter’s courtroom, Pinter told him the defendants weren’t there and that he should “get the f— out of here” and “All you rats should be exterminated.”
The affidavit also included an incident that occurred six months ago, in which Pinter was allegedly seen on the fifth floor of the courthouse, leaning over the atrium and pretending to hold a long gun and shoot at people.
That was enough for the judge to consider Pinter to be of such a threat that his constitutional right to bear arms should be infringed, at least temporarily.
On June 11, a hearing will be held and Pinter will be allowed to provide evidence to refute the claims asserted against him. The court will then determine whether a final risk protection order should be issued for Pinter, extending the protective order for one year. If he is deemed innocent, he must petition the court to regain possession of his confiscated firearms.
The law is not without controversy.
Broward’s chief administrative judge, Circuit Judge Jack Tuter, says the new law comes with potential legal pitfalls that lawmakers apparently did not anticipate when it drafted and passed the law in a knee-jerk reaction to the school shooting a few weeks prior.
In particular the judge pointed out the following shortcomings of the new law:
— What can police do about weapons in the home that are not owned by the subject of the order?
— How can the judicial system balance the privacy of minors with the open nature of the orders?
— Who’s responsible for monitoring the subject?
— What happens if the subject wants to turn his weapons over to a responsible third party instead of to police?
The last question was addressed in the legislation but it included a large loophole that will have to be addressed at some point. Police must allow the transfer of weapons to a third party as long as that person passes a background check. But the law doesn’t fund the background check, nor does it specify who is supposed to conduct it.
Attorneys familiar with the new law predict that the parts of the law, such as the seizure of weapons that don’t belong to the subject of the order, would not survive a constitutional challenge. The owner of the guns is supposed to agree to secure the weapons to prevent access by the subject of the order, otherwise, they are to surrender the weapons even though they have done nothing wrong.
A major problem with the new law is with regards to juveniles that may pose a threat or make threatening comments online, according to Tuter. Lawmakers failed to consider the privacy issues surrounding juveniles — minors could have access to weapons at home, but they are typically not identified in public court documents unless they are charged with crimes as adults.
“Risk protection orders are civil motions, so juveniles should not be identified,” Tuter said. “But failing to identify them would defeat the purpose of the orders and make then impossible to execute.”
Tuter concluded that a higher court will ultimately have to decide these issues.
Until then, law enforcement officials as well as the public, are in unchartered territory.
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