Broward County judge on Friday issued the state’s first order temporarily removing guns from a person under Florida’s new gun-control laws.
Four firearms and 267 rounds of ammunition were ordered removed from a 56-year-old Lighthouse Point man who was determined to be a potential risk to himself or others.
The guns and ammunition have been temporarily removed from the man under the state’s new “risk protection” law, which is also sometimes called “red flag” legislation, Lighthouse Point City Attorney Michael Cirullo confirmed.
The man was also taken to a hospital for involuntary psychiatric treatment under the state’s Baker Act. But the civil ruling removing his access to guns and ammunition was granted under the new legislation — which permits confiscating guns from people who have not been committed but are deemed a potential risk to themselves or others, according to the order signed by Broward’s Chief Judge Jack Tuter.
The man is also prohibited from trying to purchase or obtain guns or ammunition from any source.
The legislation is part of a bill signed one week ago by Gov. Rick Scott. The new laws impose some restrictions on gun sales and give law enforcement new power to take action when they have evidence that a person may pose a danger. The National Rifle Association immediately filed a lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee challenging some aspects of the law, including the legality of banning gun sales to people under the age of 21.
“We put the safety of our residents first,” said Lighthouse Point Mayor Glenn Troast. “This is not about the Second Amendment and it’s not about the NRA. We need commonsense gun laws and this is a commonsense gun law that gives police officers new tools they need to help us protect our community.”
The small city lies 14 miles east of Parkland where 34 people were shot — 17 of whom died — in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Before now, officials who attempted to remove guns from a person they thought was a danger could be removed from office and fined up to $5,000, the mayor said. Troast said he grew up in a law enforcement family, hunted with guns and has a healthy respect for firearms and gun rights.
Lighthouse Point police made the request on March 14, one week after they were called to conduct a welfare check on the man, who they said was behaving strangely at his condominium building. Authorities said it was the latest in a series of encounters law enforcement had with the man, though he has no prior history of arrests in Florida. He had some prior arrests in Pennsylvania, records show.
Police were called after the man turned off the main electrical breakers to the condo building in Lighthouse Point, court records show. The South Florida Sun Sentinel is not identifying the man because of his medical condition.
The man told officers he “was being targeted and burglarized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a neighbor who lives in [his] building,” the judge wrote in his order. “[He] could not describe the neighbor but stated that the neighbor [can] ‘shape shift, he can change heights and I’m not sure where he comes from’ and ‘to be honest, he looks like Osama Bin Laden.’”
He also told officers that he had to turn off the electrical breakers because “they are electrocuting me through my legs.”
Officers said they saw weapons in his home after they were called to check on his welfare. They also found evidence he had “a voluminous amount of notes containing numerous references to former President Barack Obama, that he was killed in the 1980s but came back and now murders children to place their spirits into [the man’s] head, is a member of [al-Qaida], and is [the man’s] enemy,” the judge wrote in his order.
The man was involuntarily committed for treatment in a separate proceeding and it is not yet known when he would be eligible for release, records show. The man did not attend the initial hearing, which temporarily removes his access to guns, because he is hospitalized.
The guns that were temporarily seized were a Ruger LCP .380 pistol, an M2 Mauser .45 pistol, a Charter Arms .357 mag snub nose revolver and a Mossberg 500 12-gauge shotgun, according to the court order. Authorities have also begun the process of notifying federal and state authorities, as required by the law, so that the issue would be flagged if the man attempts to purchase a gun.
Lighthouse Point Police Chief Ross Licata said officers have had interactions with the man over a number of years but none of them had risen to the level that would have warranted removing the man’s access to guns. There was also no legal method to do so in the past.
“I think this is what the general public has been looking for — for law enforcement to be able to intervene in these kinds of situations — for a long time,” the chief said.
He said he wished he had such legislation a couple of years ago when another city resident was involuntarily committed for psychiatric help after a domestic incident and police took his guns for safekeeping. A very short time after the man was released from hospital, he demanded the return of his firearms. Police were still concerned for his well-being and the safety of others. Officers eventually agreed to release the guns to a family member, Licata said.
Licata said he anticipates other communities around the state will soon file their own requests as issues arise in their own communities.
“This may be the first but it’s certainly not going to be the last,” he said.
Under the requirements of the state law, Lighthouse Point police, Cirullo and the man whose guns were removed are due in court on March 28 for a final hearing to determine if the guns and ammunition should be removed for one year.
At that hearing, police would have to present “clear and convincing” evidence — more than was needed for the temporary removal of guns and ammunition — to keep the weapons in their custody for the next year. Any violation of the court order would be a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in state prison and a $5,000 fine.
If the judge grants that request, police could seek an extension of the order if they are still concerned about the man having access to firearms.
Licata, the police chief, said people who oppose the law should know that officers had to go through a significant process to prove to the judge that they had valid concerns.
“We’re not in the business of going out and violating people’s Second Amendment rights,” Licata said. “In this particular case, we identified a significant public safety risk to the person who owned the firearms and others.”
Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, a Republican who lives in and represents Lighthouse Point, said he is glad that law enforcement has more leeway to handle these kinds of difficult situations.
“The whole conversation we’re having in the month since Parkland has completely changed because the person who is charged with committing that crime certainly should have never had a gun,” LaMarca said. “Law-abiding, sane people should have their gun rights and those who don’t have the mental capacity shouldn’t have guns.”