The best thing that can happen when police are dealing with a person who may be a threat to themselves or others is for a friend or family member to take possession of their firearms, Sheriff William Sheron told members of Genesee County SCOPE on Tuesday night at their monthly meeting at Calvary Baptist Church in Batavia.
If that isn't possible, the new "Red Flag Law" is a good tool for local law enforcement to help ensure people who are a threat don't have easy access to firearms.
Going into the meeting, Sheron said he knew that view wouldn't be popular with SCOPE members and some pushed back.
The new law goes into effect in August. It establishes a procedure for a person who believes a person who owns guns has become a threat to seek a court order requiring the person to surrender the guns to local law enforcement.
Sheron said the new law has ample due-process protections built into it and isn't really any different than police obtaining a warrant to search or seize property. The person seeking the order must provide clear and convincing evidence that the gun owner is a threat. The case goes before a supreme court judge -- in Genesee County, Charles Zambito -- who must agree the evidence is clear and convincing. The person who must give up their guns is entitled to a hearing within three to six days and can appeal any subsequent ruling to a higher court.
“Knowing Judge Zambito, he’s not just going to hand over a piece of paper and say 'we’ll take those guns,' " Sheron said, Zambia will want evidence.
The Sheriff's Office has been very successful over the years, Sheron said, in convincing gun owners who are going through a hard time to turn their guns over to a friend or family member for safekeeping until things cool down, or the person is under less stress, and that is still the default option for deputies, he said.
But that isn't always an option, or a person in distress doesn't want to cooperate, or if the deputy does take the guns, without a court order, the Sheriff's Office must give the owner the guns back upon request, even if there is no evidence the issues have been resolved for the gun owner.
In those cases, the ability of a family member, friend or a deputy to seek a court order to have the guns temporarily confiscated, and prohibit the person from legally acquiring guns, is a useful tool.
SCOPE members expressed concern about due process, about care being taken handling expensive guns, about family members who own their own guns getting those taken, and about the law not being applied as Sheron described it.
Sheron did his best to address each concern, reiterating the due process procedures, the courtesy and professionalism of his deputies, that the order only applies to the person named, and that he believes the court process will protect gun owners from overly zealous anti-gun types.
One SCOPE member suggested that the Sheriff's Office practice of letting a friend or family member take temporary possession of firearms violates the SAFE Act. Sheron said he would have to research it more but added, "we do it all the time."
The SAFE Act restricts the transfer of firearms to other people without going through licensed dealers, except for transfers to spouses or children.
Asked after the meeting if the word "transfer" in the act applied only to a change of ownership of the weapon and not giving it to somebody to hold for a period of time, while the original owner retained ownership, Sheron said that is correct.
(SCOPE is the acronym for Shooters Committee on Political Education.)