Republished with permission from former DA and current NY attorney Peter Howard Tilem.
As a New York criminal defense lawyer that handles an inordinate number of gun related cases, I hear a large number of stories about the interaction between the police and law abiding gun owners. After more than 20 years, however, very few cases shock me. What happened after a Westchester County gun owner called a suicide hotline bears repeating as a cautionary tale to law abiding citizens everywhere . . .
A Westchester County gun owner got the surprise of his life when he called a suicide hot line to talk about tools to manage depression. After the gun owner’s wife from whom he had been separated introduced him to her new boyfriend, and after having suffered a medical condition, the loss of his home and the break up of his marriage, the gun owner decided to call a suicide help line for help and instead ended up with more trouble.
The gun owner clearly remembers calling 1 800 SUICIDE to ask about tools for managing depression. He also recalls that he started out the conversation by telling the operator that he wasn’t going to hurt himself or anyone else but that he simply wanted information.
The operator then steered the conversation to whether or not there was a child in the house (there was) and whether or not there were guns in the house (there were). Within a very short time of answering that there were guns in the house, and while still on the telephone, the Westchester County gun owner heard a knock at the door. It was the police.
When he answered the door, he was informed by police that he called the Suicide hotline and he has guns in the house, it’s mandatory that they take them. He was then led to a patrol car while the police took the .357 magnum he kept for protection. The police seized the gun without a warrant but left other guns in a safe that contained a collection of guns. The police drove the gun owner to the County hospital.
Unfortunately, the nightmare didn’t end there. After being held against his will for several days, the gun owner was released to the custody of the police who then drove him home to take the rest of his guns without a warrant. The gun owner was made to open the safe while the police inventoried and seized his guns.
To date, two months later the police have refused to release the guns, putting the burden on the gun owner to go to Court to get a Court order for the police to release the guns.
For the gun owner, a momentary call to get information about depression resulted in a nightmare that could come right out of a story from the Soviet Union. Here in the United States a gun owner seeking help ends up with his guns seized without a warrant and held without charges.
[Update: Mr. Tilem's client has decided to voluntarily relinquish his NY firearms permit. As he's moving to Florida, he doesn't want to risk a revocation, which would adversely affect his chances of securing a Florida permit. Given the Empire State's past history, chances are high that the guns will never be returned.]