Overview: A California appellate court recently upheld Welfare and Institutions Code Section 8102, which authorized the seizure and destruction of firearms belonging to a woman admitted to a mental health facility under Section 5150. The court determined that releasing the firearms to the discharged patient would likely endanger the patient or others. The woman had been detained for three hours, had no history of mental illness and claimed that she was just joking with her niece about suicide. She also had no bullets or knowledge of how to use the guns belonging to her late husband. The court nevertheless found that the same hardship, limited coping skills and lack of support driving her depression still posed a significant threat if she had “lethal means.”
The court also rejected claims that Section 8102 unconstitutionally deprived the woman of her Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court found that two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions protecting the right to possess handguns in the home for self-defense did not apply to state regulations authorizing the seizure and forfeiture of firearms because of mental illness.
Training Points: This case illustrates that medical records, police observations and witness testimony may provide sufficient evidence of mental illness supporting a permanent forfeiture of firearms. The holding confirms the authority of cities and police departments to impound and destroy firearms of owners that would in any way endanger themselves or others, even if they lack ammunition. Significantly, the court recognizes the longstanding limitations on the right to bear arms through “presumptively lawful” regulations by police. Regulations prohibiting firearm possession by felons and the mentally ill fell under the state’s police power. Agencies handling weapons forfeiture should discuss the scope of Sections 8102 and 5150 with legal counsel.
Summary Analysis: In City of San Diego v. Boggess, Esther Boggess, 72, was taken to a mental health facility after her niece told police that Boggess wanted to shoot herself but had no bullets. She was involuntarily hospitalized and diagnosed with depression. Police seized three handguns from her closet. Boggess challenged the order to destroy the guns. The court rejected her claims, finding that evidence of her mental health and threat of suicide to her niece supported the order.
Section 8102 also withstood constitutional scrutiny in light of two recent Supreme Court gun cases. The court found that these cases did not affect the longstanding prohibitions on firearms possession “by felons and the mentally ill.” State laws designed to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people were enforceable to protect the public health, safety and welfare of citizens.