Last week, the Free Thought Project reported on HR 127, the most tyrannical gun bill ever proposed. The bill would target the poor by forcing citizens to pay $800 per year to possess firearms that they are required to register. It also bans multiple legal guns and ammo types, turning tens of millions of Americans into felons over night. While this bill is, without a doubt, the worst gun bill in history, it didn’t lay out any guidelines for violating a citizen’s Fourth Amendment right. Next month, however, the Supreme Court will be considering exactly that — can cops enter a home to seize guns without a warrant?
That escalated quickly.
In March, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Caniglia v. Strom, which asks the question of whether the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement extends to the home.
The community caretaker exception, has already been recognized as an exception to the Fourth Amendment by the United States Supreme Court. In Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973), the United States Supreme Court held that police officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they searched the trunk of a car that had been towed after an accident.
The Court acknowledged that, “except in certain carefully defined classes of cases,” police cannot search private property without consent or a warrant. It emphasized, however, that “there is a constitutional difference between houses and cars.” Since Cady, there has been a whole host of cases that took this holding and created the doctrine of “community caretaking.” Cady defined community caretaking activities as those “totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.”
In other words, as long as an officer might reasonably think that a warrantless search will alleviate a danger to the community, the search is considered constitutional. This was in vehicles, not homes.
While the caretaker exception has long been applied to vehicles, the idea of applying it to homes and allowing cops to seize guns without a warrant is worrisome. In an article from Forbes, the case of Caniglia v. Strom, is explained:
Mr. Caniglia was arguing with his wife and melodramatically put an unloaded gun on the table and said “shoot me now and get it over with.” His wife called a non-emergency number for the police who arrived shortly thereafter. The police disagreed about whether Mr. Caniglia was acting “normal” or “agitated” but they convinced him to take an ambulance to the local hospital for evaluation. The police did not accompany him.
While he was on his way to the hospital, Mrs. Caniglia told the police that her husband kept two handguns in the home. The police decided to search his home for the guns without obtaining a warrant. (Mrs. Caniglia’s consent to have the police search their home was legally negated because the police untruthfully told her that her husband had consented to the seizure of any guns.) The police located and seized the two guns. Mr. Caniglia sued for the violation of his 4th Amendment right to privacy and his 2nd Amendment right to keep handguns in the home for self-protection.