Legislation Would Let the Government Seize Guns From People Deemed as Possibly Dangerous


HB1537, introduced by Rep. Karla Rose Hanson (D-Fargo), is a complicated piece of policy.

The crux of it, however, is creating a process whereby a given person’s firearms can be removed from their possession if a family member or a member of law enforcement signs an affidavit saying the person is dangerous.

This excerpt from the bill (which you can read in full below) describes the process for a law enforcement officer to obtain a search warrant and seize firearms from an allegedly dangerous person:

The legislation requires a hearing on the seizure no more than 14 days after the fact at which law enforcement must show cause. If they fail, the individual gets their weapons back. If they succeed, the court issues a public safety protection order which prohibits the individual from possessing firearms for a year:

Thirty days before an issued order expires, the courts hold another hearing to determine whether the person continues to be dangerous. If the court rules that they are, the order can be continued for another year.

Here are the standards from the legislation measuring who is and is not dangerous:

As I mentioned before, family members or members of an individual’s household can also initiate this process:

I should note that the legislation does provide a penalty for false reporting. It would be a class B misdemeanor.

Is this good policy?

On one hand, I can understand the desire to get guns away from someone who may be severely depressed or behaving violently. This makes sense.

What’s troubling, however, is this amounts to prior restraint.

Let’s think of it in the context of another constitutional right. At times in the past the government has attempted to stop people from speaking because, it was thought, they would say something dangerous. They would incite a riot or call for violence. The courts, however, has struck down these efforts as prior restraint. It is hard to argue that we have free and protected speech if the government can prohibit that speech because of what you might say.

In this context, we have the creation of a process through which the government can deny individuals another civil right – to keep and bear arms – not because of what they have done but because of what they might do.

That smacks of pre-crime.

It seems like hubris, to me, for we as a society to decide we know so much about what a person might do that we can act against their civil rights. More than that, it’s a dangerous legal precedent to set. Because if the government can deny you your 2nd amendment rights simply by deciding you’re too dangerous to exercise them, what else can they take from you?

Can your 4th amendment protection against illegal search and seizure be taken away? Can we argue that people identified by the courts as dangerous shouldn’t have privacy lest they get up to dangerous things outside of the view of the public?

I’m all for taking guns away from people who commit violent or unsafe acts. I’m not for taking them away because they might do those things.

UPDATE: Here’s a press release sent out about the legislation. It comes from the Democratic caucus in the Legislature, but note that this is a bi-partisan bill. One co-sponsor is Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner:

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Here’s the full bill:

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