It had all the makings of a dystopian political thriller. Sheriff’s deputies unexpectedly descend onto the property of a law-abiding 70-year-old Vietnam veteran and insist they have a writ to seize his firearms. The document, however, is obviously flawed. Different Social Security numbers appear in different places. The man knows he’s never been in trouble with the law. And he had certainly never appeared before a judge on the issue of his firearm ownership. When he tries to point out the obvious mistake, he is ignored. All the police want to know is where his guns are.
Thankfully, Don Hall of Talberg, N.Y., was not subject zero in a long-feared government round-up of civilian firearms. But his story – detailed in a lengthy article on the Syracuse.com website – is still a chilling and cautionary tale that underscores the dangers of firearm registration, antigun fanaticism, and laws that dispense with constitutional due process on the pretense of protecting “public safety.”
Fortunately, Mr. Hall kept his head that night last February and did not overreact to a confusing and provocative situation. Instead, he contacted a lawyer the next day and began the arduous process of clearing his name and securing the return of his lawfully-owned and constitutionally protected property.
According to the paperwork the deputies had shown Mr. Hall, he had been labeled as a “mental defective” and was therefore prohibited from owning firearms. Hall wracked his brain trying to figure out any possible basis for this finding, but there was simply none. He had never been treated for any mental health condition.
On his attorney’s advice, Mr. Hall went from one local hospital to the next securing affidavits to prove he had never received mental health treatment. At one hospital where he had been treated for sleep apnea, he told the Syracuse.com, the records clerk “turned white as a ghost” when she realized they had incorrectly entered the Social Security number associated with his account.
Finally, some two months later, Hall’s attorney was able to convince an Oneida County judge that his client was the victim of a bureaucratic misidentification. The judge ordered the guns returned, but even then, Hall was initially told he’d only get back his pistols, not his long guns. Fortunately, that further bureaucratic error was also corrected.
The genesis of Don Hall’s trouble appears to be New York’s practice of cross-checking certain mental health records with firearms registrations. Hall had apparently been mistaken for another individual with a disqualifying metal health history. While the Syracuse.com article indicates the exact legal authority for the action taken against Hall remains unclear, at no time before his firearms were forcibly seized was he given a chance to answer the accusations against him.
“I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent,” Hall told the reporter. “They don’t tell you why or what you supposedly did.” His attorney agreed, stating, “To me, presumption of innocence is the foundation of our system, and this provision [allowing for seizures based on cross-matched records] doesn’t allow for that.”
Gun control advocates are increasingly pushing for laws that would allow authorities to suspend a person’s Second Amendment rights based on unproven accusations or the inclusion of a person on some secret government list. These types of regulations turn constitutional due process on its head by forcing Americans to prove their innocence after adverse action has already been taken against them based on evidence they were never given a chance to contest.
While Don Hall eventually got back his firearms, he had to spend considerable time and money to establish his innocence, and none of the entities or officials involved are taking responsibility for the mistakes that led to the seizure, much less offering to compensate him for his efforts and trouble. And for every person like Don Hall with the means and determination to challenge arbitrary and unjustified government action, there are surely many more who will simply cut their losses without putting up a fight.
Which all just goes to show that when it comes to antigun fanaticism, trampling the rights of the innocent has always been the cost of doing business.