By Jeff Knox
(July 14, 2017) The term “Californication” has been floating around on bumper-stickers and internet memes for decades, and it is generally thought of in regards to people moving from California to another state, and bringing their crazy, California ideas for laws, regulations, and taxes along with them. but California has no patent on idiot politicians, and crazy people aren’t their only export. They also export their crazy ideas. The state of Oregon is just the latest recipient. While migration is probably a factor in Oregon’s downward spiral, many of their most radical politicians were born and bred in the state. Still, it’s abundantly clear that Oregon politics is heavily influenced by their neighbors to the south. Their most recent plunge into the realm of California crazy legislation is what proponents call an Extreme Risk Protection Order, or ERPO, and it’s not just California pushing this nonsense, the ERPO is also one of Mike Bloomberg’s pet schemes.
An ERPO is like a Restraining Order or Order of Protection, but rather than ordering a potentially dangerous person to stay away from a named potential victim, an ERPO is supposed to remove the means for violence from the potentially dangerous person. While specifics vary from state to state, in general an ERPO allows a housemate, family member, intimate, physician, or police officer to petition a judge to order “temporary confiscation” of a person’s firearms and other weapons. The idea is to disarm a person who is exhibiting mental instability that suggests that they might be a danger to themselves or others.
Of course, like most prior-restraint laws, it all sounds reasonable on the surface. But as usual, the devil’s in the details. Typically ERPOs are issued by a judge, based solely on the testimony of one or more of the above-mentioned persons. There is no formal hearing, no opportunity for the subject of the ERPO to hear the accusations or argue against the action until after police barge into his home and seize his firearms. They could also seize other things that they consider potentially dangerous weapons, like knives, razor blades, medications, etc. This begs the question as to how far police can and might go in their efforts to “suicide-proof” a person’s home? Will they take, ropes, belts, shoelaces, and car keys? Can they compel the person to stay away from tall buildings, railroad tracks, and busy roads?
We have long held that any person who cannot be trusted to possess a firearm, should not be free to circulate with the general public without direct supervision. In other words, whether we’re talking about convicted felons or people with mental issues, if they are too dangerous to themselves or others to have access to firearms, they are too dangerous to be outside of an institution. That might sound harsh at first blush, but it’s actually much more moderate than the current standard. The current rule assumes that anyone who has ever been convicted of a serious crime – even tax evasion or writing bad checks – and anyone who has ever been forced to undergo psychiatric treatment, can be released into society, but without their full constitutional rights. This sort of blanket policy means that people who are too dangerous to be roaming free are living among us, and people who are no danger at all are second-class citizens. Like school policies which dictate that anyone involved in a fight, whether attacker or victim, receives the same automatic punishment, policies that allow dangerous people to roam freely, and which punish people who are not dangerous, are unfair to individuals, and harmful to society.
To my knowledge, every state has laws allowing a person to be involuntarily committed for 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation. These laws generally require no more justification than is required for an ERPO: testimony from a family member or close associate. Those laws are problematic too, but they currently exist, and they make the concept of an ERPO redundant, and comparatively anemic. If your family really believes you are a danger to yourself or others, why would they not petition to have you held in a safe place where you cannot hurt yourself or anyone else, and where you can receive treatment for your condition?
These ERPO laws are not about saving lives or preventing tragedies. They are about demonizing guns and gun owners, and feeding the anti-gun paranoia machine.
Someone bent on suicide is unlikely to be deterred by a meddling relative having armed police come and take their guns. As a matter of fact, such an event could easily precipitate a tragedy that would not have happened otherwise. A person struggling with Hamlet’s daunting question, might find that it’s easier to simply point a gun at arriving officers than to pull the trigger on themselves. Worse, if they are really determined, they could take an officer or two with them. Or the person could simply seek one of the hundreds of alternative methods that are readily available beneath the kitchen sink, in the medicine chest, or on the highway.
If it’s others that the person wants to harm, again, throwing police into the middle of that situation could precipitate the tragedy, and not having firearms readily available isn’t likely to make them see the folly of their plan. Firearms are a favorite weapon of murderers, but they are not nearly the only means of accomplishing the deed, and are not used in almost half of all murders.
Oregon has already adopted a new ERPO law, as has Washington State. Now Massachusetts is seriously contemplating taking the plunge, and Bloomberg’s gun control conglomerate is actively pushing the idea in several other states.
The Constitution guarantees the right to arms, and it also guarantees “due process” before property can be seized, but Bloomberg and his Californicators seem to think the Constitution only applies to other people’s ideas, never theirs.