A Broward County judge issued the state’s first order on Friday to temporarily remove guns from a person under Florida’s new gun-control laws.
Under the “risk protection” law, which is also sometimes called “red flag” legislation, police are permitted to confiscate guns from people who are involuntarily committed under the Baker Act or who pose a violent threat to themselves or others. Under the order, gun owners whose firearms are taken away can petition to get them back after 30 days.
Police confiscated four firearms and 267 rounds of ammunition from an unidentified 56-year-old Lighthouse Point man who was determined to be a potential risk to himself or others.
The man was also taken to a hospital for involuntary psychiatric treatment under the state’s Baker Act. But the civil ruling removing his access to guns and ammunition was granted under the new legislation — which permits confiscating guns from people who have not been committed but are deemed a potential risk to themselves or others, according to the order signed by Broward’s Chief Judge Jack Tuter.
The man is also prohibited from trying to purchase or obtain guns or ammunition from any source.
Lighthouse Point police made the request on March 14, one week after they were called to conduct a welfare check on the man, who they said was behaving strangely at his condominium building. Authorities said it was the latest in a series of encounters law enforcement had with the man, though he has no prior history of arrests in Florida. He had some prior arrests in Pennsylvania, records show.
Police were called after the man turned off the main electrical breakers to the condo building in Lighthouse Point, court records show. The South Florida Sun Sentinel is not identifying the man because of his medical condition.
The man told officers he “was being targeted and burglarized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a neighbor who lives in [his] building,” the judge wrote in his order. “[He] could not describe the neighbor but stated that the neighbor [can] ‘shape shift, he can change heights and I’m not sure where he comes from’ and ‘to be honest, he looks like Osama Bin Laden.’”
He also told officers that he had to turn off the electrical breakers because “they are electrocuting me through my legs.”
Officers said they saw weapons in his home after they were called to check on his welfare. They also found evidence he had “a voluminous amount of notes containing numerous references to former President Barack Obama, that he was killed in the 1980s but came back and now murders children to place their spirits into [the man’s] head, is a member of [al-Qaida], and is [the man’s] enemy,” the judge wrote in his order.
The man was involuntarily committed for treatment in a separate proceeding and it is not yet known when he would be eligible for release, records show. The man did not attend the initial hearing, which temporarily removes his access to guns, because he is hospitalized.
Lighthouse Point Police Chief Ross Licata said officers have had interactions with the man over a number of years but none of them had risen to the level that would have warranted removing the man’s access to guns. There was also no legal method to do so in the past.
“I think this is what the general public has been looking for — for law enforcement to be able to intervene in these kinds of situations — for a long time,” the chief said.
Licata, the police chief, said people who oppose the law should know that officers had to go through a significant process to prove to the judge that they had valid concerns.
“We’re not in the business of going out and violating people’s Second Amendment rights,” Licata said. “In this particular case, we identified a significant public safety risk to the person who owned the firearms and others.”
Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, a Republican who lives in and represents Lighthouse Point, said he is glad that law enforcement has more leeway to handle these kinds of difficult situations.
“The whole conversation we’re having in the month since Parkland has completely changed because the person who is charged with committing that crime certainly should have never had a gun,” LaMarca said. “Law-abiding, sane people should have their gun rights and those who don’t have the mental capacity shouldn’t have guns.”