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Monday, May 28, 2012

Cops Accused of Stealing Citizen's Guns

By Drew Zahn

A pair of California cities and the state’s Department of Justice are facing a federal lawsuit today because, plaintiffs claim, the police confiscated firearms during investigations but now refuse to return them – even after the subjects of the inquiries were cleared of any wrongdoing.

The Second Amendment Foundation, which has joined gun owners Douglas Churchill and Peter Lau in the lawsuit, say the cities are engaging in "deliberate theft of personal property."

We saw this sort of property theft following Hurricane Katrina,” SAF Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb recalled in a statement, “and we took that case to federal court and won. Government agencies simply cannot seize private property and refuse to give it back by playing bureaucratic games.”

Gene Hoffman, chairman of the Calguns Foundation, which has also joined the case, explains, “Law-abiding Californians should not be forced to seek out expensive legal representation just to get back what is rightfully theirs in the first place.”

According to court documents, Lau’s firearms were confiscated by the Oakland Police Department when authorities were investigating his brother’s suicide. Eventually, his guns were returned, all except one rifle the police deemed an “assault weapon.” Lau’s attorneys dispute the classification.

Churchill’s firearms were confiscated by the San Francisco Police Department in January 2011 as part of an investigation, but the district attorney dismissed charges less than a month later. Nonetheless, police refuse to return seven of Churchill’s weapons – including a Remington .22-caliber rifle and a Winchester 20-guage shotgun, among others.

Police, court documents suggest, are relying on a letter from the California Department of Justice instructing the police not to return firearms unless the alleged owners can present “proof of ownership,” though the same letter admits the state may have no official records for “long guns” like Churchill’s Remington.

In Churchill’s case, however, police officers presented him with a receipt for the firearms they confiscated. Churchill’s attorneys argue that’s good enough and the police need to return the weapons they took.

“In California, the Evidence Code makes it clear that simple possession is proof of ownership of almost all types of common property, including firearms,” claims Don Kilmer, counsel for the plaintiffs. “The California Department of Justice is misleading police departments in such a way that they violate the rights of gun owners who were investigated and found to have not violated the law.”

“What the police departments are doing is a deliberate theft of personal property, and they know it,” added Gottlieb.

In addition to the landmark McDonald v. Chicago Supreme Court case, SAF has been involved in a number of cases in recent years.


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