You’d expect a group of attorneys to understand the law. For all the lawyer jokes that fly around, the ones I know are all good, honorable people working at a job that everyone needs at some point, but no one respects. Of course, they’re probably not too thrilled about what the American Bar Association is currently pulling.
It seems that this august group of lawyers has decided that gun rights should be thrown out the window if someone asks hard enough.
It’s common for lawmakers to go after guns when there’s a “crisis.” The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands ordered the National Guard to seize guns before Hurricane Irma hit, and the mayor of New Orleans did something similar before Katrina. More broadly, lawmakers often go after guns in smaller crises, such as domestic violence situations or when there are concerns that a potentially dangerous person might misuse a gun. While that might seem like a good policy in theory, it should concern anyone who cares about due process and protecting constitutional rights. That’s why it was troubling when, at the 2017 American Bar Association annual meeting, the ABA House of Delegates formally adopted resolution 118B, which urges state governments to put in place “GVRO”s (Gun Violence Restraining Orders). GVROs enable law enforcement to search for and seize a person’s lawfully possessed arms on the theory that they may pose a danger to themselves or others.
The ABA, whose primary purpose is to set academic standards for law schools and propose codes of ethics for lawyers, has never been too fond of the Second Amendment. As early as 1965, the ABA favored restrictive gun control. What is surprising about this resolution, though, is the lack of attention paid to the due process rights of gun owners. In its resolution, the ABA explicitly endorses issuing GVROs ex parte, meaning the constitutional rights of the accused could be stripped without the opportunity to defend himself in court.
Ex parte proceedings always pose constitutional concerns, as they deal with the rights of a person who is not before the court. The classic situation is a domestic violence restraining order, which is what most GVROs are based on. Those are more justifiable as ex parteproceedings because they involve a balancing of the rights of the accused and potential victim, and they specifically focus on the protecting an identifiable person. Those orders are issued in certain terms and do not require a physical invasion into the life of the accused.
Only a blind person–either physically or ideologically–could be incapable of seeing the problems with this. After all, how many of us have had people find out we own guns and immediately ask whether we’re going to shoot someone? There are people who are absolutely convinced that the mere presence of a firearm constitutes a threat, and the American Bar Association wants to give them a tool to use to bypass due process and snatch away lawful property?
Yeah, that’s a problem.
The American Bar Association needs to understand that if we allow a due process exemption on this, then that can be used to erode due process for other groups down the road. What about taking the car of someone who simply mentions they’re going out to drink that night? What about taking the computer of someone who will say mean things on the internet?
Once the camel’s nose is under the tent, it’s impossible to keep the camel out. The only question is just how long it’ll take before you have a camel crapping on your sleeping bag.
Frankly, if there’s sufficient evidence that someone constitutes a threat to themselves or others, there’s already a process in place to protect people. Psychiatric holds exist for just this reason, but they don’t involve plundering through people’s homes, taking their possessions, all on some flimsy excuse they’re not allowed to even defend themselves from.
Instead, the holds allow professionals to evaluate the claims and determine if someone actually is a threat or not.
But that doesn’t allow gun control grandstanding, so…