Letter: CT Gun Seizure Law is Alternate Way to Remove Guns When Someone is a Threat to Themselves or Others

To the Editor submitted August 29, 2015 by Jonathan Perloe, a leader of the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence and the Southwestern CT chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

As recent shootings in Charleston, Lafayette and the latest murder of two journalists in Roanoke demonstrate, the federal background check process has weaknesses that let dangerous people legally buy guns.

As a result of intense lobbying by the NRA, the Brady Law that instituted background checks permits gun dealers to legally complete a sale after three days, even if the background check has not been completed. This loophole, known as a “default proceed,” allowed a racist white male to purchase a .45-caliber Glock pistol which he later used to murder nine congregants at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

In the case of the Lafayette movie theater shooting a few weeks later, the apparently seriously mentally ill shooter was able to legally purchase a .40-caliber Hi-Point semiautomatic firearm.  Although his family petitioned a court and a judge ordered him to be detained and sent for a mental health evaluation, there was no subsequent court order involuntarily committing him for actual treatment. As such, he was not considered a prohibited person under the Brady Law.

A similar situation of a family raising red flags was followed by the mass shooting in Isla Vista in May, 2014 that killed six people and injured 14 others. The shooter’s parents warned police of their son’s threat to public safety, but law enforcement had no legal authority to seize his guns.

What can we learn from these all-too-often tragedies? That we need alternative measures to keep guns out of the hands of non-criminal dangerous people. Brady background checks have stopped prohibited people from buying guns more than 2.4 million times. But, legal purchases by dangerous people, whether by virtue of mental illness or hateful intention, will continue. Even if we could rectify obvious deficiencies and loopholes in the background check system that have been blocked by the gun lobby, it would be impossible to accurately determine the criteria that identify non-criminal people who are prone to violence.

In fact, the vast majority of people with mental illness are not dangerous, and are many times more likely to be the victims of, rather than the perpetrators of, violence.

Fortunately for us in Connecticut, as well as in California and Indiana, there is an alternate way to remove guns from those who are a threat to themselves or others.

Known as gun seizure laws, they allow family members, law enforcement and others to initiate proceedings to take guns away from individuals who are deemed by a judge to be dangerous.

Connecticut was the first state to enact a gun seizure law, in 1999, in the wake of the killing of four CT Lottery employees by a disgruntled co-worker with a history of mental illness. Since then, police have removed guns from nearly 800 people, with a marked increase in recent years.

The law protects Second Amendment rights by requiring two police officers to present independent evidence before a judge to establish probable cause and to certify that no reasonable alternative exists to avoid the risk of violence. The court must hold a hearing within 14 days after a seizure to determine whether to return the guns or order them held for up to one year. Although gun rights advocates oppose these laws on the grounds that they violate constitutionally protected due process, courts across the country have upheld ex-parte orders when there is an imminent and credible risk of violence.

If you have reason to believe that a gun owner poses a threat to you or others, or may be at risk of suicide, call your local police department and ask to initiate a gun seizure complaint.

Jonathan Perloe
Cos Cob, CT

Jonathan Perloe is a leader of the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence and the Southwestern CT chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

  • CT Sheepdog

    Mr. Perloe, why is it that a portion of the law, when it works as written, is deemed a “loophole”? The 3-day default proceed feature was put into place so that a American citizen’s Constituionally protected right to own and bear arms was not impeded due to faults in administrative systems. It is not a “loophole” but a right-protecting mechanism that makes good sense.

    Of the tragedies that you list, only one applied to this default proceed processing and the FBI has already admitted that it dropped the ball in this case. No system is perfect and in this case that fault had tragic consequences. Maybe your efforts should be aimed at the FBI.

    But I wonder, if the “loophole” is as bad as you suggest, why have we not heard of other tragic events that slipped through the “loophole”? How many hundreds, or thousands, of “default proceed” authorizations have gone through without any increased risk to the public safety? You focus on a single system failure, call it a “loophole” and leave the uninformed reader thinking that “loophole” is something that should be closed.

    What bothers me about people of your thinking is that every single event, not matter how unique, isolated and unlikely to be repeated, should be met with new laws or new restrictions that will encroach on the rights of thousands of other Americans.

  • charlie galliher

    Mr Sheepdog: It may be hard to answer your question, but there is a really great website that you can go to that will help answer your question, since I can tell by your comment that you are both interested in learning more about gun violence and have an inquisitive mind.
    It’s: http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/last-72-hours?page=1
    However, just in case this post whacks out weblinks, it’s www dot gunviolence dot org slash last-72-hours?page=1 This will give you an unbiased reporting of all sorts of recorded shootings, and you can take your research from there. I hope this helps.

    • CT Sheepdog

      Charlie – Thank you for the link to the site, which I have been aware of for some time. My issue with the public data is that it is too vague and does not describe the circumstances with enough detail. Specifically, it does not identify in the public data those incidents that are gang-related and those that are not nor those were a legally licensed gun owners is involved or not. Possibly the broader data available from the organization would capture such facts but without such distinctions, I find little use for this information.

  • I’m sick to death of the lie! “2.4 million times” the Brady Law has “stopped prohibited people from buying guns” is a complete fabrication to dupe citizens. The fact is 94% of those purported “stops” were actually only delays in a firearm transfer that was then, upon further review, approved. Furthermore, according to the Department of Justice, less than .06% of the small number of transfers that are actually turned down are ever prosecuted. Does that sound like an effective deterrent to you? Yet this is the same system the supposed “universal” background checks will rely on. It’s opiate for the masses people.

  • Jonathan Perloe

    To Mr. Sheepdog and Kevin:

    In 2014, 2511 default proceeds were subsequently determined to have resulted in sales to prohibited persons, so this isn’t an isolated occurence.

    Sales with a default proceed disposition are 8 times more likely to involve a prohibited person than other background checks, so there is a marked increase in risk to public safety from the 3-day policy.

    Three-quarters of Americans, including two-thirds of gun owners, support extending the timeframe for completing the background check to five business days, a recommendation made by the FBI.

    Some federally licensed dealers recognize the risk of selling firearms as a result of a default proceed, so will not complete the transaction regardless of their legal right to do so. Walmart is one of these dealers.

    The above information comes from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence Background Check Procedures Policy Summary.

    Regarding the statistic of 2.4 million firearm sales prevented by Brady background checks, the 2014 NICS Operations Report (pg 19) documents 1.2 million federal denials since NICS went online in 1998 (the Brady Act went into effect in 1994). The balance of the denials were processed by individual states (see page 3 of the NICS Report for the states that perform their own background checks).