The Fourth Amendment protects Americans “against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
President Joe Biden’s administration, troublingly, believes warrantless seizure of your firearms is perfectly reasonable even if the reason to believe you pose a danger to yourself or others is practically nonexistent.
In the Biden administration’s first amicus brief to the Supreme Court, it urged the high court to uphold a lower court’s ruling in Caniglia v. Strom, a case in which a dubious claim the gun owner could have posed a danger to himself was used as a pretext to take his firearms without a warrant. The lower court found the actions were protected under an exception to the warrant requirement to the Fourth Amendment.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on Wednesday, according to Forbes.
According to an earlier Forbes report, the administration’s brief argued that warrants aren’t “presumptively required when a government official’s action is objectively grounded in a non-investigatory public interest, such as health or safety.”
Moreover, the Department of Justice brief stated that qualified immunity — the doctrine that government officials cannot be held accountable for rights violations unless they violated “clearly established” constitutional or legal rights — should protect the Cranston, Rhode Island, police officers who seized the guns.
You may remember that last summer, congressional Democrats fought bitterly to end qualified immunity for police, arguing that it shielded law enforcement officers and agencies from liability. Apparently, though, it’s now OK with the Biden administration — if only for a case that involves seizing weapons.
The case dates back to 2015. According to Forbes, a marital dispute broke out between 68-year-old Edward Caniglia and Kim Caniglia, his wife of more than two decades, after Edward Caniglia refused to use a coffee cup his brother-in-law had used previously, saying he might “catch a case of dishonesty” from it.
After an hour-long argument, Edward stormed into the bedroom, produced an unloaded handgun, put it on the kitchen table, and asked his wife, “Why don’t you just shoot me and get me out of my misery?”
The argument continued, according to Forbes, until Caniglia left to cool off with a drive. When he returned, the fighting resumed and Kim Caniglia eventually left for the night and got a hotel room. When she called the next morning, her husband didn’t answer.
She called police to perform a wellness check. When they arrived and talked to Edward, according to Forbes, officers said he “seemed normal,” “was calm for the most part,” and told them “he would never commit suicide.” An officer admitted they “did not consult any specific psychological or psychiatric criteria” when questioning him. They didn’t ask about his history of criminality, violence, self-harm or mental health issues.
Officers still believed there was a risk of suicide and wanted Caniglia to seek a psychological evaluation, Forbes reported. He initially refused, but only relented when they said they wouldn’t seize his firearms or ammunition. They were lying. They also lied to his wife and said Edward had assented to the seizures. That persuaded her to lead the officers to the couple’s two handguns, Forbes reported. The guns were then seized.
“Critically, when police seized the guns, they didn’t claim it was an emergency or to prevent imminent danger,” Forbes’ Nick Sibilla wrote.
“Instead, the officers argued their actions were a form of ‘community caretaking,’ a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.”
That exception was first enumerated in a 1973 Wisconsin case where law enforcement, responding to a drunken driving accident involving a man who identified himself as a Chicago police officer, believed the suspect to have a police service revolver. While they were unable to find it in his rented car, which they had towed, they were able to find several bloody items that eventually led to the man’s conviction for murder. The Supreme Court eventually ruled, according to Justia, that the case constituted an exception that allowed police to search the car without a warrant.
In the Caniglia case, according to Forbes, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that while the community caretaking “doctrine’s reach outside the motor vehicle context is ill-defined,” the gun seizure was warranted because an officer “must act as a master of all emergencies, who is ‘expected to … provide an infinite variety of services to preserve and protect community safety.’”
Thus, the community caretaking doctrine is “designed to give police elbow room to take appropriate action” — which, apparently, this qualifies as.
Caniglia’s attorneys argued that “extending the community caretaking exception to homes would be anathema to the Fourth Amendment” since it “would grant police a blank check to intrude upon the home.”
It’s an argument shared by groups as divergent as the American Conservative Union, the libertarian Cato Institute and the liberal American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief for Caniglia in the case.
“Extending the ‘community caretaking’ exception to warrantless searches of the home would allow police officers to bypass the Fourth Amendment’s restrictions in a startling array of circumstances. These are not theoretical concerns,” the brief stated.
“In both state and federal courts, everything from loud music to leaky pipes has been used to justify warrantless invasion of the home. Allowing ill-defined notions of ‘community caretaking’ to override the Fourth Amendment is unwise, unmanageable, and unnecessary, and it opens the door to abusive police conduct, including against those who most need society’s protections.”
The Biden administration disagrees, arguing in its brief that “[t]he touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness” — and that the actions of the officers in the Caniglia case were wholly reasonable.
“A warrant should not … be presumptively required when a government official’s action is objectively grounded in a non-investigatory public interest, such as health or safety” as opposed to a criminal case, the brief argued.
“The ultimate question in this case is therefore not whether the respondent officers’ actions fit within some narrow warrant exception, but instead whether those actions were reasonable,” the brief stated. “And under all of the circumstances here, they were.”
What the Biden administration is standing up for, thus, is that police could seize your guns under the “community caretaking” exception if they could claim that taking the firearms was “objectively grounded in a non-investigatory public interest, such as health or safety.”
Note that Rhode Island didn’t have a so-called “red flag” law until 2018, which allows a court to issue an “extreme risk protection order” in cases where it believes individuals present an “imminent risk” to themselves or others. Furthermore, the police officers had convinced Caniglia, under false pretenses, to be evaluated to see if he was an imminent risk. They also lied to his wife, saying he had authorized the seizures.
Trained medical practitioners could have decided whether Caniglia posed a self-harm risk before he had access to the guns again. (Incidentally, according to Forbes, he didn’t get them back until he filed a civil rights lawsuit.)
The officers hadn’t asked him about his criminal or mental health history. From the Forbes account, they had nothing to go on aside from a dramatic (if stupid) gesture with an unloaded weapon during a marital spat.
On that basis alone, under the auspices of “community caretaking,” they took his guns. The Biden administration believes this is “reasonable.” As a backstop, they argue “the Court could affirm the court of appeals’ judgment by concluding that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity.”
The administration’s brief was filed Feb. 18, according to Law and Crime. Just over two weeks after the administration filed this brief, the same administration cheered on House Democrats’ decision to reintroduce and pass a police reform bill that would eliminate qualified immunity for police officers. Just saying.
During Wednesday’s arguments, justices appeared mixed on the Caniglia case, according to the Forbes report. They shouldn’t be.
As the Biden administration’s evident hypocrisy on the “qualified immunity” issue shows, liberals aren’t interested in the legal principles at hand so much as they are intent on using the legal system in whatever way necessary to authorize the government to seize American weapons.
The Caniglia case, then, is nothing more than a blatant, hypocritical attack on due process that beseeches the court to expand the “community caretaking” exception to the point where it becomes a de facto invitation to a form of warrantless “red flag” gun seizures — an assault on the Second Amendment by gutting the Fourth.
Biden isn’t just going after Americans’ guns via legislation; he wouldn’t mind if the Supreme Court helped authorities take them, either.
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