In response to the Parkland school shooting in February 2018, the Florida legislature passed a sweeping gun-control bill with serious unintended consequences for law-abiding gun owners.
As is too often the case, politicians pass laws in the name of “doing something” without thoroughly thinking through the negative consequences a law may have. SB 7063 is no exception. Instead of trying to determine why the laws already on the books were not enforced, i.e. criminal and mental health laws, Florida added a new byzantine law filled with vague language that is subject to serious abuse.
Florida Statue 790.401 is titled Risk Protection Orders (RPO). This statute allows a law enforcement agency to seize firearms, ammunition and other weapons after petitioning a court when someone is a “high risk”of harming themselves or others. There must be “demonstrated evidence” that the person poses a “significant danger” to himself or others, including significant danger as a result of a “mental health crisis” or “violent behavior.”
All of the terms in quotations are undefined by the legislature and open to broad interpretation by law enforcement and judges. Under a RPO a court can order a persons firearms and ammunition seized for up to 12 months. In addition your name will be entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This will prohibit a person from purchasing new firearms until their name is removed. Like must things government touches, this process can be a bureaucratic nightmare with your name kept in the system long after it should have been removed.
The statute lists 15 types of evidence a judge can consider, one of which is “evidence of recent acquisition of firearms or ammunition.” Under a likely nightmare scenario, an anti-gun relative could request a risk protection order with no other evidence than that another relative recently purchased a gun or ammunition.
Before you scoff, there are many anti-gun activist judges who will use this new “tool” to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding Floridians. I have been fighting on behalf of the law abiding in the exercise of their Second Amendment rights for two decades and could write a book about all the things that weren’t supposed to happen but did.
It is now common in family law divorce and child custody cases for unscrupulous lawyers to use temporary injunctions against the opposing spouse to gain advantage in the legal proceedings. I have no doubt that risk protection orders will be the shiny new toy used by bad lawyers to harm the unsuspecting gun owner.
You do not want to attend a RPO hearing without a lawyer knowledgeable in the area of state and federal firearms laws. The RPO statute was effective on March 9, 2018. I recently attended my first RPO hearing, but for my presence my client faced serious risk of having a RPO entered against him. While RPOs may have a place, the devil is in the details, and the devil is certainly in the details of this vague law.
Sadly, like with so many laws, good people will be harmed and have to spends countless sums of money defending against frivolous and baseless allegations. Adding insult to injury, if someone falsely files for a RPO against you, there is nothing you can do about it. If you or someone you know is facing an RPO please contact me immediately to ascertain your rights.