Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments in Caniglia v. Strum on whether police can enter a home without a warrant under a “community caretaking” exemption to the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. The case stems from a 2015 incident in Rhode Island in which police entered an innocent man’s home, without his permission, and confiscated his firearms.
Police had been called by Edward Caniglia’s wife, who claimed she feared her husband might be suicidal after they had an argument. Edward spoke calmly to police when they showed up, told them he would never kill himself, and displayed no reason to believe he may be suicidal. Police bullied him into visiting a psychiatric care facility, and lied that they would not confiscate his firearms while he was away. The facility immediately released Edward, because in their assessment, his mental health was fine.
Police then lied to Edward’s wife, saying her husband gave police permission to enter the home and remove his firearms, which they did.
After Edward sued, his firearms were returned. But the court ruled the police had acted properly in seizing the guns based on “community care.” Edward’s appeal made it to the Supreme Court.
At last week’s arguments in front of the Supreme Court, the Biden administration sent a representative of the United States to argue on the officers’ behalf. In other words, the Biden administration is in favor of a court decision which would allow police to enter homes and confiscate firearms without a warrant in the name of “community care.”
What this means:
Lawyers for the police officers argued that a precedent for the “community care” exemption to the Fourth Amendment, which applied only to impounded vehicles, should also apply to the home. While other exceptions to the Fourth Amendment require an immediate emergency, this one does not. If the Supreme Court ultimately agrees, it would weaken the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, especially as it applies to firearms.
This would essentially force a “red flag law” on the entire country.
Red flag, or ERPO (Extreme Risk Protection Order) laws have been passed in 19 states (plus DC). They allow police to seize firearms from an innocent person, with the permission of a judge.
This is a “pre-crime”— the court decides, without the subject present, if their non-criminal behavior suggests they pose a threat to themselves or the community. But at least under red flag laws the cops need a judge to go along. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the police in Caniglia v. Strum, it means police across the country will have free reign to serve as judge and jury, to convict someone of a pre-crime.
What you can do about it:
It’s pretty ironic that the same people who want to restrict the ability to defend yourself claim that the police are all racist and cannot be trusted to keep communities safe.
The reality is that self defense is a personal responsibility.
Guns can absolutely be misused, and in some cases needlessly escalate situations.
But it’s hard to deny that firearms are sometimes an important part of a Plan B for self and home defense in a worst case scenario.
The following 19 states (plus DC) have some version of red-flag laws on the books— which again, means police could confiscate your firearms with a court order, even if you have never committed, or even been accused, of a crime.
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
Oklahoma is the only state with an anti-red flag law. The law passed in May 2020 says the state, nor local governments, may enact a law that allow confiscating firearms from innocent people. No state agencies may accept funds to implement such a law either.
Here is a basic overview of gun ownership legality in a few common Plan B destinations.
Canada: It is legal to own firearms in Canada with training, a background check, and a permit. Canada issues different permits based on the type of firearms you wish to acquire. Shotguns and rifles commonly used for hunting are considered non-restricted, which is the easiest type of firearm license to acquire. These firearms do not have to be registered.
Handguns are considered restricted, and require a different permit, and registration of each individual firearm. To carry handguns outside the home, you must acquire another special permit based on your occupation, or an imminent danger to your life.
Mexico: It is legal for citizens and legal residents to own firearms in Mexico provided they are registered with the government and only kept in the home.
To carry a firearm outside the home, a special permit is required. You must prove an occupational or special need, and meet other requirements including previous military service. Other exceptions exist for certain farming, hunting or sporting reasons.
Panama: Legal residents and citizens of Panama can own firearms after obtaining a permit. Requirements include a psychiatric evaluation, to submit DNA, a background check, and a drug test in order to obtain the permit.
Firearms must already be registered with the government, or go through the registration process if it is imported, which includes ballistic “fingerprinting” of the firearm.
Keep in mind that states and countries have different standards for when you are allowed to use a firearm in self defense.
Of course guns should always be a last resort, to save your life or the life of a loved one. In those circumstances, when faced with the choice of death or having to prove self-defense in court, most people would choose the latter.
Again, there can be parts of a Plan B that you hope you will never have to use. But as the saying goes, better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.