SALAMANCA — A Second Amendment rights attorney says a secret database used by New York State Police to seek confiscation of an individual’s guns under the mental health provisions of the state’s SAFE Act has resulted in hundreds of thousands of guns seized under judicial order.
Monroe County attorney Paloma Capanna, who specializes in Second Amendment cases, spoke to members of the Cattaraugus County Bar Association Monday as a featured Law Day speaker.
End the secrecy, Capanna urged. The SAFE Act, or Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, calls for the confiscation of firearms from someone involuntarily confined in a mental health institution, not from someone who tells their doctor they’ve been feeling depressed.
Not all her clients who have had the “door knock” by law enforcement seeking their guns under judicial order were admitted for mental health reasons. “One man had a stroke” and his wife drove him to the hospital, Capanna said.
Four percent of New Yorkers are in this secret database, she told the attorneys.
You can’t find out why you are in the database, because state police do not reply to requests for the information, Capanna said. The core of the issue lies in civil rights and the constitutional right of due process, she said.
One client, a 30-year member of law enforcement, got one of the letters. He went to a Long Island hospital near his home at the time and said he was having trouble sleeping. The hospital put him on the list and notified state police.
Capanna said state police have admitted in court there is no investigation into why someone is placed on the mental health list. They present papers to a judge for the seizing of any firearms from an individual.
“This is simply an allegation of involuntary confinement,” Capanna told the bar members.
“Where the hell are the lawyers?” she demanded. “Where are you? For five years, I’ve had a monopoly” on these cases. “We are here because we are committed to justice.”
Judges, Capanna said, are afraid of ruling to return someone’s guns seized under the SAFE Act for fear that person will be involved in the next mass shooting.
Those individuals whose guns have been seized under the SAFE Act — she says the number is 600,000 — represent about 80,000 a year, or 6,500 a month “who are getting sucked into the secret database run by state police,” Capanna said.
She said she hasn’t lost a case at the hearing stage involving a SAFE Act seizure over a mental health issue. Persons are entitled to assigned counsel to represent them at the hearing, she added.
Capanna said she can’t wait for one of her cases to make it to the Supreme Court where she can make case law with the due process argument.
It’s a civil rights fight, she said, adding the best way to address it is through public education.
“That’s our most potent weapon,” Capanna said.
Cattaraugus County Court Judge Ronald Ploetz was invited by the Bar Association to comment on Capanna’s presentation. He said he agreed with most of what she said.
The judge said he gets two or three of the letters from the state police each month stating someone on the list is believed to have firearms that should be seized until a hearing can be held. The action suspends their Second Amendment rights.
Ploetz said he calls Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb to ask that a deputy who knows the person whose weapons are to be seized go to the house in a low-key manner. Most of the the people are on the list due to depression.
“I have yet to do a permanent revocation of any kind,” he told the nearly 50 bar members and guests attending the dinner at the Seneca Allegany Casino.
The county attorney investigates the case before the hearing. State police do not attend the hearing.
“No one wants to take away these rights,” the judge said. “We don’t like this.”