Police Wary of New Powers to Seize Firearms Under Red Flag Law

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In May, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a red flag confiscation bill into law. At the time, a Whitmer press release stated, “At the bill signing, Governor Whitmer was joined by bill sponsors, legislators, public safety advocates, and law enforcement officials.”

The bill went into effect last week. Now that court-ordered gun grabs are a reality, it appears that some law enforcement officials are reconsidering the whole confiscation thing now that Michigan is the 20th state to have some form of a due process-free gun-grab law on the books.

From bridgemi.com:

However, as the time for the law to take effect moves closer, some police chiefs and sheriffs around the state say they’re worried about the ways their agencies will have to deal with the changes.

Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police in Okemos, said that while he supports the law because he does not believe people who are “not mentally balanced” should have firearms, he worries about the safety of the officers who will be taking the guns away.

People often do not take well when men in uniform show up at their houses with an order to confiscate their firearms. Particularly since the orders are often issued ex parte, with no opportunity for the targeted gun owner to fight the request to disarm them in court before they are issued.

Stevenson is planning for the worst-case situation.

“If you have somebody who says that they’re paranoid, and they’re dangerous, and they’ve got firearms, and somebody gets an order that tells this person you need to turn in your firearms, who’s going to go to this house with the dangerous, psychotic person that’s paranoid and try to take their guns from them?” Stevenson said.

“In what way is that going to happen?” he said.

Stevenson speculated about several potential scenarios:

What happens if the person with the order tries to hurt the officers? What if the person who was deemed suicidal becomes overwhelmed and still poses harm to themselves when their guns are being seized? What if the individual with an order has to be detained by force or even be killed, due to the threat they pose?

“I mean, you have got to imagine the optics are terrible, right?” Stevenson said. “We’re trying to save somebody in the family. We went to the police to save them, and they killed them.” 

He is concerned about the public perception of police shooting and killing someone they are attempting to disarm. Fortunately, according to the bill’s principal sponsor, such things never happen.

However, Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, who spearheaded the legislation, said that when she studied the laws in other states, such as California and Florida, she found no instances of a gun being fired during a seizure of weapons. 

Senator McMorrow appears to utilize a highly specialized search engine. She must have overlooked Patrick Willis’s shooting death in Maryland in 2018. He had no idea he was the target of a red flag seizure order until the cops arrived at his house. At 5:17 am.

That was an example of extremely poor optics.

If only law enforcement had been consulted in the legislative deliberations while Michigan’s red flag law was being considered.

Matt Saxton, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said his organization was never asked to comment on conversations of how to enforce the new law. 

Saxton said that he asked multiple times to be part of the enforcement process with the governor’s office, but was instead left in the dark, not sure what to strategize for and what to envision when it takes effect.

Perhaps Saxton, the head of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, hasn’t met one of his organization’s other employees, Dan Pfannes.

Pfannes is the Deputy Director of the MSA. Back in April, while the bill was still being debated in the House Judiciary Committee, he spoke in favor of the then-proposed red flag provision. So the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association’s reservations regarding the enforcement implications of red flag confiscation orders did not prevent the MSA from supporting the bill’s passage.

Saxton said he doesn’t believe that extreme risk protection laws are the best laws that could be passed, but hopes they will keep both the public and law enforcement officers safe.

As a result, the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association supported the bill in the legislature. But now that they may have to go door-to-door with a court order in hand, demanding Michiganders hand over their firearms, the enforcement implications have become, well, difficult.

Saxton said enforcement strategies will be left to local municipalities instead of having a statewide standardized strategy. 

Stevenson said law enforcement agencies are likely to collaborate with each other, asking neighboring departments for backup during the firearm retrieval process. 

What could go wrong?

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