Victim of Gun Hysteria Responds
by Russell Laing


Submitted by Jess M

(http://www.cssa.org/articles/laing_feb00.html)

I am referred to your e-mail addresses as the contact points of "Million Moms", described as an organization advocating more intrusive and controlling legislation to further restrict the lawful exercise of the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

I thought my story might be of interest to you.

In April 1996 my home was surrounded by members of a local police department, after they had learned that my employer had contacted a local paramedic/EMS organization expressing concern that I "had not reported to work nor called off sick" (police testimony). In front of my neighbors, these officers drew their weapons (that's loaded guns, to you), and in a SWAT-team manner made a dynamic entry to my home. They ran down the main hallway, burst into my bedroom and literally leaped on me ...as I lay in my bed asleep!!

Noticing a locked gun safe (by their own testimony, my guns were locked away and never a factor in any way), they called my employer in an unsuccessful attempt to solicit a statement that I was considered "armed and dangerous" (my employer later provided a written account of this). I was then led away to be incarcerated in the psychiatric ward of a local hospital based on a statement by one of the officers expressing his belief that "I was unable to care for myself."

The police then seized my lawfully owned gun collection. They did not possess a warrant of any kind to enter my home nor one to take lawfully owned property. They did not possess a warrant to remove me from my home and detain me for mental health observation -- they relied upon a section of the PA Mental Health code that allows any police officer to order such a detention based on his own judgement. I have no criminal record at all, and was never accused of making any threats or other public disturbance. I was, and still am very successfully employed in senior management of the health care industry.

The hospital where I was detained almost immediately issued the only piece of paper that they ever filed outside of their own walls -- a notice to the County Mental Health Office that they had determined that I was NOT mentally ill and not in need of confinement or treatment.

I then went to court to obtain the return of my property. Because my case involved the return of firearms, it was automatically assigned to criminal court, even though there was no criminal or threatening activity of any kind (save the actions of the police department). The police were therefore represented by the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, who characterized me as "a ticking time bomb waiting to explode" and referred to my 12 gun collection (still locked inside the metal safe dragged from my home) as a "veritable arsenal". Lacking any evidence of violent behavior by ME, the focus of the DA's Office and police testimony centered around HOW DANGEROUS MY GUNS WERE.

At my first hearing, a Common Pleas Court Judge noted the complete absence of any violence or other threatening activity and ordered the return of my property. The police refused to obey this court order and the DA's Office scheduled a re-hearing before the same judge in which they argued that UNDER A NEW GUN CONTROL LAW IN PENNSYLVANIA (PA Act 17 of 1995) -- anyone subjected to a police-ordered detention for mental health observation would automatically lose forever the right to own a firearm -- even if there was never any warrant or hearing at any point in the process. Just the police officer's "opinion" that I was "unable to care for myself" was sufficient to void a fundamental constitutional right, and even though the hospital discharged me (again, without any hearing) because they had determined I didn't need to be there.

Over the next three years, I argued my case across four separate court petitions filed in eight different court systems. I had to hire three different attorneys, and the DA's Office assigned three different criminal prosecutors to oppose my case. At one point, my wife received a call at work from the police asking if she would object to the return of my gun collection (she strongly supported my efforts, even though our marriage failed during this period, in part due to the stress of what I was being put through by the legal system).

In the fall of 1998, the police officer in charge who had ordered the confiscation of my gun collection was brought up on 21 different charges by the Chief of Police. These charges included allegations of filing false and/or misleading reports against various residents of the community. One of the charges pertained to me, although I could not obtain specifics. The officer was fired in early 1999.

I won three of the four court petitions which I had filed. The fourth petition, a lawsuit against the police and the hospital, was settled to my satisfaction (part of the settlement prohibits me from disclosing further details). My record was completely cleared and expunged; my PA License to Carry Firearms was reinstated with the active consent of the Allegheny County Sheriff's Department. My gun collection was returned to me. My case was reviewed by the United States Department of Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which ruled that the Pennsylvania gun-control laws would not be recognized because they denied citizens the right to due process (ie. a simple hearing where I could plead my case). In June 1998, Governor Tom Ridge signed into law amending language to help prevent the kind of abuse I was subjected to (PA Act 70-1998). My case was cited by the House Speaker Bob Godshall in presenting this amendment for a vote.

In August 1999 I testified before the PA Judiciary Committee on Firearms Law held in Cambridge Spring, PA. The attorney who finally won my legal rights is a very left-of-center civil rights activist who serves on the board of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the ACLU. He is one of the finest men I have ever met.

The only analogy I can give you, as to the extent of the ongoing gun-hysteria, is to liken my case to the Salem Witch Hunts in which irrational fears were used to justify trendy new laws which provide for the presumption of guilt without any hearing or other due process. Indeed, my own legal counsel remarked that the extensive resources mounted by the DA's Office likely reflected their desire to "make an example out me" as the means of setting a precedent for active future use of an intrusive law...since I was a law-abiding citizen who was engaged in a productive and successful business career. In short, I was "soft-target" compared to the countless criminals and violent individuals whom these "progressive laws" will never affect in the slightest.

Speaking of trendy new laws, about a year ago a five year old student in the school system where my three children go was suspended and sent home after showing up for his class Halloween party in a fireman's outfit --complete with a four-inch plastic hatchet that violated the school's trendy new zero-tolerance weapons law. The story made national news, although my case was suppressed by the media as it starkly demonstrated the actual effect of laws being actively promoted by them.

In April of 1998, I discussed my case at length in a direct meeting with the legal counsel for the hospital. Within two months, the hospital's volume of mental health detentions declined by a factor of 97%. Does it concern you that everyone who has been subjected to these non-adjudicated mental health detentions ordered by police officers is now entered into a mental health database maintained by the PA State Police -- even if they never have an intention of owning a firearm? One of the judges in my many court battles mentioned that there are at least 8,000 of these detentions in Allegheny County, alone, per year.

The extent of gun hysteria has come to the point where such laws are actually endangering society, instead of making it safer. How much of the decline in mental health detentions at the hospital where I was detained reflects a broad trend by mental health providers to refrain from such discretionary admissions based on perceived legal liability; how many law enforcement officers will by-pass a legitimate discretionary action for the same reason. How many wives, MOMs, and significant others will refrain from seeking help for a potentially troubled family member or friend out of fear that they will ignite the kind of nightmare I was forced to endure?

I hope you give this some thought. While I am sure that your fundamental motives are sound, you must understand that when hysteria and excessive unrestrained desire to control others is unleashed, we are setting loose a force that is far more powerful and frightening than any firearm ever made, including the ones wielded by the men who stormed into my home nearly four years ago and forever changed my life.

Let's go after violent and criminal behavior, instead of the increasing level of energy being directed to monitoring, further restricting, and controlling the lives of law abiding citizens. We can all sleep easier for a world of freedom and respect for basic rights.

Sincerely, And Ever Free,

Russell Laing





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