Two innocuous social media posts shared by a Broward County, Florida gun owner were enough to lead authorities to temporarily confiscate his firearms, according to the man’s attorney.
Kendra Parris told Reason her client posted a photo of an AR-15 rifle he’d built, along with a comment, “It’s done. Hooray.”
He also criticized teen gun control activists, claiming they were infringing on people’s Second Amendment rights, in another online comment.
Authorities obtained a temporary gun confiscation order based on the two posts. However, Parris said she was able to convince the city to drop its petition for a final order.
The unidentified man’s story was just one among several covered in the Reason feature, which surveys potential abuses in the implementation of “red flag” laws.
Another of Parris’ clients, Chris Velasquez, a University of Central Florida student also featured in Reason’s piece, had a temporary risk protection order issued against him based on an inaccurate and misleading affidavit.
Velasquez, who had no history of mental illness and did not own any firearms, was interviewed by police in March 2018 after making tasteless remarks on Reddit where he expressed support for school shooters in three separate comments.
Despite Velasquez explaining to police that he was simply “trolling” and regretted making the comments, officers continued investigating.
According to Reason, law enforcement officials misrepresented Velasquez’s statements in the affidavit, claiming he’d “indicated that he wanted to commit the mass shootings so that he could feel the ‘adrenaline rush’ from the shooting,” when Velasquez had said no such thing.
Orlando Police Department Sgt. Matthew Ochiuzzo claimed Velasquez “disclosed that he has had thoughts and urges to commit a mass shooting since his sophomore year of high school.”
Velasquez never made such remarks and instead said that while in high school he “didn’t have any thoughts of a school shooting,” Reason reported.
Two weeks after the temporary risk protection order was issued against Velasquez, Circuit Judge Bob LeBlanc found the city had failed to make a case that the college student posed “a significant danger.”
Parris told Reason that the judge eventually came to a realization about how the city had reached its conclusion that her client was a threat.
“The judge asked, ‘Did he actually make any threats, or was this all in response to hypothetical questions?'” she said. “And of course, it was all in response to hypothetical questions. Fortunately, the judge noted that this essentially amounted to thought policing and declined to issue the order.”
Red flag laws
“Red flag” laws, sometimes called extreme risk protection order laws, allow police or people with close ties to a gun owner to petition courts for orders that require individuals deemed a threat to temporarily surrender their firearms. In 2018, more than 1,700 such orders were issued, according to the Associated Press.
14 states have already passed “red flag” laws.
While the intent of the policy is to prevent tragedy before it strikes, critics worry about potential abuses in implementing the law.
Many point to the death of 61-year-old Maryland resident Gary J. Willis last year.
In November, Willis was shot and killed during a raid on his home triggered by the issuing of an extreme risk protective order, which stipulated the removal of firearms from his household, CBS Baltimore reported.
When two Anne Arundel County officers arrived in the early morning to serve the “red flag” order, Willis became upset and grabbed his handgun. One officer tried to take the gun away, and Willis fired. The second officer opened fire in return, hitting Willis, who died at the scene.
Anne Arundel Update: Family members tell me there was a fight last night that centered around the care of an elderly family member that led them to contact police. Gary Willis struggles with alcoholism. Family say he wasn’t dangerous just strongly opinionated #Baltimore
— JoyLepolaStewart (@jlepolastewart) November 5, 2018
Willis’ family members told local news outlets in November that he wasn’t “dangerous” just “strongly opinionated.
- An illustrative image of Phoenix police officers.: Screen grab