A Court of Appeals in the Land of Lincoln has reversed a decision from a lower court that would have barred a father from keeping firearms or ammunition in his home until his daughter – now two years old – reaches the age of 18. The father – identified as Kurt R. – was awarded sole custody of his daughter after he split up with the mother, identified as Andrea R. Kurt had a gun collection consisting of eleven firearms – four pistols, one shotgun, and six rifles. And that was a big problem for the lower court . . .
With regard to Kurt’s gun collection, in its letter opinion the trial court noted that Kurt, Andrea and both of Andrea’s parents testified that guns were kept in a locked safe in a closet and behind a locked door to Kurt’s bedroom. [The decision also notes that the door to Kurt’s bedroom even had a key pad lock on it.] Although Andrea’s father testified that he once saw a gun in the garage, the court found that he had no specific information about this incident and no one else corroborated it. However, then the court found that it did “not wish to minimize the concern it has for the child’s safety, and finds that it is not in the best interests of a child to have multiple guns and ammunition in a home.” In the judgment order, the court ordered Kurt to remove all guns and ammunition from his home within 24 hours and ordered that guns were not permitted back into the home at any time until the child has attained the age of 18.
What’s astonishing about this is not just the fact that the trial court attempted to rescind Kurt’s civil rights, but the fact that it doesn’t appear to have been based on any of the evidence presented by Andrea.
Andrea had made quite a few allegations about Kurt, and both her mother and father had apparently testified that they’d seen guns in the house at various times. But the trial didn’t find Andrea’s or her parents’ testimony to be believable.
Again, going back to the Court of Appeals’ decision:
After reviewing the facts of the case, the [trial] court found that Andrea’s mother was so biased as a witness to make her testimony incredible. It also found that Andrea’s father’s testimony about guns was incredible because he stated that his knowledge of guns came from watching a lot of television and he had never owned or fired a gun. With regard to Andrea, the court said that it did not doubt that she loved M.A.R.R., but that she failed to see the impact her palpable hatred for Kurt had, and will continue to have, on her child. It noted that Andrea’s anger was evident at trial.
Despite all of that, the trial court still effectively conditioned Kurt’s custody of his daughter based on his surrendering his civil rights. Fortunately for Kurt, the Appeals Court was having none of it:
Kurt’s last argument is that the trial court erred when it ordered him to remove all guns and ammunition from his home within 24 hours and prohibited him from having guns brought back into his home until M.A.R.R. had attained the age of 18. In support of his contention, he claims: (1) there is no evidence in the record to justify this order; and (2) the order violates his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
We need not address Kurt’s constitutional issue because, based upon the evidence presented at trial, we hold that the trial court erred by inserting this clause into the judgment order. See Mulay v. Mulay, 225 Ill. 2d 601, 607 (2007) (as a general rule, courts will address constitutional issues only as a last resort, relying whenever possible on nonconstitutional grounds to decide cases).
In its letter opinion, the trial court noted that extensive testimony was given regarding Kurt’s collection of guns. It acknowledged that Kurt, Andrea, and both of Andrea’s parents testified that the guns were kept in a locked safe in a closet located behind a locked door to Kurt’s bedroom. Although the court noted that Andrea’s father testified that he thought he once saw a gun in the garage, it also said that the father had no specific information about the gun, and that no one else at trial corroborated that incident. Nevertheless, the court went on to find that it was not in the child’s best interests to have multiple guns and ammunition in a home.
Based upon the evidence presented at trial, as well as the trial court’s own specific findings, it was not reasonable for the court to place such a restriction on Kurt’s lawful possession of ammunition or guns without any evidence of danger to the child. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s ruling on this issue….
It’s very disappointing that the lower court apparently allowed itself to indulge its own anti-gun biases, especially in light of the facts of the case that were presented. It is true that the lower court had to deal with a wide variety of issues in this matter — from child support to vaccinations — but that’s no excuse for making a decision based on the intuition of the court rather than the facts before them.
(Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy).