The Biden administration is signing onto a Supreme Court case that would allow warrantless gun confiscation, giving police the right to violate your Fourth Amendment rights through “community caretaking.”
The case before the Supreme Court began with an elderly couple’s fight over a coffee mug. Forbes described the case in detail:
In August 2015, 68-year-old Edward Caniglia joked to Kim, his wife of 22 years, that he didn’t use a certain coffee mug after his brother-in-law had used it because he “might catch a case of dishonesty.” That quip quickly spiraled into an hour-long argument. Growing exhausted from the bickering, Edward stormed into his bedroom, grabbed an unloaded handgun, and put it on the kitchen table in front of his wife. With a flair for the dramatic, he then asked: “Why don’t you just shoot me and get me out of my misery?”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tactic backfired and the two continued to argue. Eventually, Edward took a drive to cool off. But when he returned, their argument flared up once again. This time, Kim decided to leave the house and spend the night at a motel. The next day, Kim phoned home. No answer.
Worried, she called the police in Cranston, Rhode Island and asked them to perform a “well check” on her husband and to escort her home. When they arrived, officers spoke with Edward on the back deck. According to an incident report, he “seemed normal,” “was calm for the most part,” and even said “he would never commit suicide.”
However, none of the officers had asked Edward any questions about the factors relating to his risk of suicide, risk of violence, or prior misuse of firearms. (Edward had no criminal record and no history of violence or self-harm.) In fact, one of the officers later admitted he “did not consult any specific psychological or psychiatric criteria” or medical professionals for his decisions that day.
Still, police were convinced that Edward could hurt himself and insisted he head to a local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. After refusing and insisting that his mental health wasn’t their business, Edward agreed only after police (falsely) promised they wouldn’t seize his guns while he was gone.
Compounding the dishonesty, police then told Kim that Edward had consented to the confiscation. Believing the seizures were approved by her husband, Kim led the officers to the two handguns the couple owned, which were promptly seized. Even though Edward was immediately discharged from the hospital, police only returned the firearms after he filed a civil rights lawsuit against them.
Rather than citing the usual reasons for skipping the step of getting a warrant, such as an emergency or preventing imminent danger, the officers in this case claimed that their actions were a form of “community caretaking.”
“Community caretaking” refers to a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement created by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago. This exception was created so that police officers who were called to the scene of an accident would have the ability to impound cars, protect highway safety, and remove nuisances such as inoperable vehicles on public roads.
The Biden administration, along with attorneys general from nine states, are trying to argue that this exception should be used to violate your Fourth and Second Amendment rights.
Supreme Court Arguments
Caniglia’s attorneys issued a warning in their opening brief to the Supreme Court, stating that “extending the community caretaking exception to homes would be anathema to the Fourth Amendment,” because to do so “would grant police a blank check to intrude upon the home.”
The ACLU, the Cato Institute, and the American Conservative Union filed a joint amicus brief arguing that, in jurisdictions that extend the community caretaking exception to homes, “everything from loud music to leaky pipes have been used to justify warrantless invasion of the home.”
If the Court sides with the Biden administration, it is very likely that this decision would impact people’s willingness to call the police. In situations where someone would typically call the police, such as an accident, people may choose not to out of fear that the police could use the situation as an excuse to search or seize their property without cause.
“When every interaction with police or request for help can become an invitation for police to invade the home, the willingness of individuals to seek assistance when it is most needed will suffer,” the brief read.
The Biden administration didn’t seem to care about these concerns in its first amicus brief, which argued that “the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‘reasonableness.’”
In the same brief, the Biden Justice Department claimed that warrants should not be “presumptively required when a government official’s action is objectively grounded in a non-investigatory public interest, such as health or safety.”
Even in their own briefing, it is obvious that the Biden administration is asking the court to ignore the Constitution.
“The Fourth Amendment protects our right to be secure in our property, which means the right to be free from fear that the police will enter your house without warning or authorization. A rule that allows police to burst into your home without a warrant whenever they feel they are acting as ‘community caretakers’ is a threat to everyone’s security,” said Joshua Windham, an attorney for the Institute for Justice.
The Bottom Line
If the Supreme Court sides with the Biden administration on this case, it would represent the further erosion of the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment clearly protects against search and seizure without cause and without following the proper process. The amicus brief filed by the Biden administration argues that a warrant shouldn’t be required in a situation where “a government official’s action is objectively grounded in a non-investigatory public interest, such as health or safety,” the police and government could easily exploit that in any number of ways. If they can shut down your businesses in the name of “public interest,” “health,” and “safety,” they can easily use those justifications to search your house and take your guns away.