- WND - http://www.wnd.com -

Cops accused of stealing citizens' guns

A pair of California cities and the state’s Department of Justice are facing a federal lawsuit today because, plaintiffs claim, the police confiscated firearms during investigations but now refuse to return them – even after the subjects of the inquiries were cleared of any wrongdoing.

The Second Amendment Foundation, which has joined gun owners Douglas Churchill and Peter Lau in the lawsuit, say the cities are engaging in “deliberate theft of personal property.”

“We saw this sort of property theft following Hurricane Katrina,” SAF Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb recalled in a statement, “and we took that case to federal court and won. Government agencies simply cannot seize private property and refuse to give it back by playing bureaucratic games.”

Gene Hoffman, chairman of the Calguns Foundation, which has also joined the case, explains, “Law-abiding Californians should not be forced to seek out expensive legal representation just to get back what is rightfully theirs in the first place.”

According to court documents, Lau’s firearms were confiscated by the Oakland Police Department when authorities were investigating his brother’s suicide. Eventually, his guns were returned, all except one rifle the police deemed an “assault weapon.” Lau’s attorneys dispute the classification.

Churchill’s firearms were confiscated by the San Francisco Police Department in January 2011 as part of an investigation, but the district attorney dismissed charges less than a month later. Nonetheless, police refuse to return seven of Churchill’s weapons – including a Remington .22-caliber rifle and a Winchester 20-guage shotgun, among others.

Police, court documents suggest, are relying on a letter from the California Department of Justice instructing the police not to return firearms unless the alleged owners can present “proof of ownership,” though the same letter admits the state may have no official records for “long guns” like Churchill’s Remington.

In Churchill’s case, however, police officers presented him with a receipt for the firearms they confiscated. Churchill’s attorneys argue that’s good enough and the police need to return the weapons they took.

“In California, the Evidence Code makes it clear that simple possession is proof of ownership of almost all types of common property, including firearms,” claims Don Kilmer, counsel for the plaintiffs. “The California Department of Justice is misleading police departments in such a way that they violate the rights of gun owners who were investigated and found to have not violated the law.”

“What the police departments are doing is a deliberate theft of personal property, and they know it,” added Gottlieb. “Our partners at the Calguns Foundation have properly argued that this is inexcusable, and they are right.”

Names as defendants in the case are the cities of Oakland and San Francisco and their respective police departments, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the state’s Department of Justice. The case is currently before the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California.

Officials in San Francisco did not respond to WND requests for comment, and in Oakland, officials explained they had not yet seen the legal action, so would withhold comment.

The SAF claims to be the nation’s oldest and largest tax-exempt education, research, publishing and legal action group focusing on the constitutional right and heritage to privately own and possess firearms. Founded in 1974, The Foundation has grown to more than 650,000 members and supporters and conducts many programs designed to better inform the public about the consequences of gun control. In addition to the landmark McDonald v. Chicago Supreme Court Case, SAF has previously funded successful firearms-related suits against the cities of Los Angeles; New Haven, CT; New Orleans; Chicago and San Francisco on behalf of American gun owners, a lawsuit against the cities suing gun makers and numerous amicus briefs holding the Second Amendment as an individual right.

In addition to the landmark McDonald v. Chicago Supreme Court case, SAF has been involved in a number of cases in recent years: