Those who pay attention to politics have seen it: laws that allow authorities to do things that are clearly unconstitutional, abusive, utterly unreasonable, stupid and/or morally wrong. Take for example a “comprehensive background check” law written such that merely handing someone a firearm to examine, without first completing the mandated paperwork regime and obtaining state permission, is actually a crime. The law may not specifically say that, but a father could be arrested and prosecuted for handing his son a rifle. A law-abiding gun owner could find herself wearing handcuffs for allowing a friend to hold her handgun . . .
When engaging the legislators who wrote such laws, the conversation always runs along these lines:
Citizen: “This law is going to get honest people arrested for doing nothing.”
Legislator: “Oh, no. Ha, ha, ha! That wasn’t our intent. That will never happen.”
Citizen: “But the law is written that way.”
Legislator: “The police will never arrest anyone for that.”
Citizen: “Then you won’t mind removing that provision from the law, or clarifying it, then?”
Legislator: “Now you’re being unreasonable! We’re talking public safety here! What are you, some kind of gun nut?!”
The point, of course, is that such laws are written to allow the unreasonable and morally wrong, and legislators (I know, I repeat myself) — who wrote and passed the law by stealthy means — have absolutely no intention of changing or repealing it because it’s doing exactly what they intended all along.
States have a variety of laws, ostensibly for the safety of the public, that also fall into this category. Many allow the police, or in some cases specifically-created agencies, to seize, “safeguard,” and dispose of the property of people who have died. Normally, such statutes allow state action only when the deceased have no relatives—or people are designated by a will—to take possession of the property, whether a home or other items. To allow otherwise would encourage bureaucrats and the police to seize personal property for self-enrichment. In some states, these laws are an open invitation to official corruption.
It will not surprise TTAG readers to learn that Buffalo, NY is a part of that undistinguished company. Fox News has the story:
“A plan by police in Buffalo, N.Y., to begin confiscating the firearms of legal gun owners within days of their deaths is drawing fire from Second Amendment advocates.
The plan is legal under a longstanding, but rarely enforced state law, but gun rights advocates say, with apologies to onetime NRA spokesman Charlton Heston, it is tantamount to prying firearms – some of which may have substantial monetary or sentimental value – from the cold, dead hands of law-abiding citizens.
‘They’re quick to say they’re going to take the guns,’ said Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. ‘But they don’t tell you the law doesn’t apply to long guns, or that these families can sell [their loved one’s] pistol or apply to keep it.’
King said enforcing the state law is the latest example of authorities targeting law-abiding gun owners, while doing little to secure the streets.”
King is quite right. Seizing the guns of the law-abiding deceased, particularly where there are relatives available to take possession of them, clearly demonstrates that the concern of Buffalo authorities is not public safety.
“Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derrenda said at a press conference last week that the department will be sending people to collect guns that belong to pistol permit holders who had died so ‘they don’t end up in the wrong hands.’ The department will cross reference pistol permit holders with death records and the guns will be collected when possible, he said.
Derrenda said guns pose a threat if their owner is no longer alive to safeguard them, especially if a recently-deceased gun owner’s home is burglarized.
‘At times they lay out there and the family is not aware of them and they end up just out on the street,’ he said, according to WGRZ.com.”
Surely the Police Commissioner, the man responsible for upholding the rights of all of Buffalo’s citizens, would first determine whether it is necessary to seize these guns. After all, if the deceased has a still-living spouse, or relatives, what would be the point? What would be the public safety necessity? What would be the compelling governmental interest? Notice that the Commissioner is not producing a single example of guns ending up “out on the street” in these circumstances. Surely he would if such a thing had ever actually happened?
“The state law says that if the permit holder dies, the estate has 15 days to dispose of the guns or turn them in to authorities, who can hold the weapons up to two years. LoHud.com reported that violation of the law by survivors is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine. [skip]
The state law has been in the books for years but not enforced, King said. The Erie County Sheriff’s Office told FoxNews.com that it learned about the Buffalo police decision after the announcement, but has no plans to invoke it on a regular basis as the city of Buffalo does.”
How can this be? Isn’t the Erie County Sheriff’s office equally concerned for public safety?
“Dominic Saraceno, a Buffalo defense attorney, said he anticipates legal challenges. He is concerned that family members may simply allow police to retrieve the guns while not realizing their value.
‘These gun collections can value into the hundreds of thousands,’ he said. ‘If a police officer came to my door without a warrant signed by a judge, I’m not giving them anything. Most people don’t know that and get intimidated.’
Calls to Buffalo’s mayor’s office and to the police department were not returned. But the city has employed other programs, including buy-backs, to help counter gun violence. One such program took place in August and netted 840 guns. Critics of these buy-back programs say most people who turn in their guns are likely law-abiding citizens and these numbers do not necessarily estimate illegal guns off the streets.
‘I say to those critics, again, if we can get one of these guns off the streets that could be used to commit a crime or injure a member of our community, it’s a good thing,’ Mayor Byron Brown told WIVB during the summer.”
In order to seize the guns of a deceased citizen, the Buffalo Police would have to be aware of every death occurring within their jurisdiction. Via the coroner, newspaper obituaries, police calls, etc. they can surely do this. They must also assign clerical personnel–or even police officers taken away from actual law enforcement duties (this does indeed regularly happen)–to cross check all deaths with gun permits. Why the local police should never be allowed to require and keep records on who owns firearms and their specifications and numbers is an article for another time, but Buffalo’s current mania to seize the property of its citizens is yet another eloquent argument against gun registration of any kind.
Since the police are actually digging into the private lives of families, particularly at a terribly tender and sad time, would the public not be better served by the police notifying them of their rights under the law? Wouldn’t helping survivors to retain the property of their deceased loved ones, some of which are surely prized heirlooms, be the decent, lawful, moral thing to do? Of course, but this is New York State. Where guns are concerned so-called public servants have no decency and their morals are the morals of the thug.
Who has so little conscience, whose heart is so black that they would write a law demanding that within two weeks of the death of a loved one, survivors must complete paperwork to retain the property that is their inheritance? Who mandates that grief-stricken people must deal with the whims of bureaucrats wrangling over cherished symbols, reminders of their fathers, mothers or siblings? And who is so cruel they would enforce such a law? Who imagines they are entitled to the property of dead strangers?
Usually, individual police officers are not to blame. Those few aware of such laws–most police officers are aware of only those laws they regularly enforce–generally don’t invoke them unless there is a very good reason. An officer, for example, might find himself at a home where an elderly man has died. Seeing a handgun on a bedroom nightstand, and being unable to locate any family, he might take it into custody for safekeeping–not to seize if for the state–until relatives can be found.
It is when politicians–and higher-ranking police officers are always politicians to at least some degree–become involved that officers find themselves forced to do things they know to be wrong and abusive of the rights of those they are sworn to serve and protect. Generally, rank and file police officers, the men and women that actually do the daily work of policing, support the Second Amendment. Perhaps that’s the case here.
The statute books of every state contain time bombs like this. Particularly where the Second Amendment is involved, it would be very much worthwhile to scour those statutes and work to see that laws like those in New York State be rewritten to eliminate any possibility of abuse, or repealed. At the very least, blanketing authorities with tyrannical pretentions with adverse publicity often has the salutary effect of forcing them to avoid those laws like the plague.
In any case, Buffalo has earned a dubious distinction: it is yet another island of contempt for the rights of citizens and for the Second amendment. Governor Cuomo, as he watches firearm-related businesses and law-abiding, productive citizens flee the state, is proud, I’m sure.