The Biden administration has reportedly pressed the U.S. Supreme Court to allow police to enter homes without a warrant and seize firearms. The case presented itself when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Caniglia v. Strom.
Per the case, Edward Caniglia, 68, got into an argument with his wife, Kim, which ultimately ended up with the police seizing his guns in 2015. After their quarrel, Kim stayed at a hotel and contacted law enforcement with the belief that her husband might hurt himself. Prior to the incident, Edward did not have a criminal record or history of self-harm.
Despite Edward’s clear history, law enforcement officers were convinced that he could hurt himself and insisted he receive a psychiatric evaluation at a local hospital. Forbes reports that Edward refused their advice and asserted that his mental health was none of their business. He ultimately relented and reluctantly agreed to go in for a mental health checkup after the police falsely promised him they wouldn’t take his firearms while he was gone.
Forbes reports that the police lied to Edward’s spouse, Kim, and told her that he consented to have his guns confiscated. Believing the lie, Kim showed the officers the two handguns the couple owned, which police promptly confiscated. Edward was immediately discharged from the hospital and was only able to retrieve his firearms after he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the department.
Police did not argue that their actions were in response to an emergency and to prevent imminent danger, arguing instead that their actions were a form of “community caretaking.”
In this case, which made its way all the way to the Supreme Court, the Biden administration called upon the justices to side with the police. Arguing that, “the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‘reasonableness,’” adding that official warrants 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.”
The justices appeared to disagree with the police, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor stating that “there was no immediate danger to the person threatening suicide and no immediate danger to the wife because the suicide person [sic] was removed to a hospital.”
Sotomayor added that the real issue was police “going into the home without attempt to secure consent from the wife and seizing the gun and then keeping it indefinitely until a lawsuit is filed,” and not their suggestion for him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
“The wife tried to get it back. He tried to get it back. Weeks and weeks went by,” Sotomayor added. “When we permit police to search and seize without some standard, we run the risk of situations like this one repeating themselves.”
As Forbes notes:
This risk featured prominently in the amicus briefs filed by gun-rights advocates. “Expansion of the ‘community caretaking’ exception into the home will be used by police in jurisdictions with onerous or constitutionally-questionable firearm restrictions to turn every call to a house into a search for guns under the pretext of ‘helping’ those present,” warned a joint amicus brief filed by the Second Amendment Law Center, the California Rifle and Pistol Association, and Gun Owners of California. Simply put, “the Fourth Amendment has no ‘gun’ exception.”
Although Caniglia v. Strom centers around seizing guns from someone suspected of being suicidal, its reach will be much, much broader. Should the Supreme Court adopt the Biden Administration’s argument that “the Fourth Amendment permits a warrantless seizure or home entry that is reasonably necessary to protect health or safety,” such public health and safety concerns could “become a pretext for law enforcement,” argued Shay Dvoretzky, who argued for Caniglia before the High Court.