Opinion By John Petrolino
New Jersey – -(AmmoLand.com)- Just another Law Passed.
September 1, 2019, quietly passed for many of New Jersey’s citizens. The day-to-day operations and the ins and outs of living in the Garden State serve our legislature and executive branch quite well. That is, people are struggling to pay their taxes. The public transit light rail system is a joke. Commuting to a job is a hassle, no matter where one lives. Soccer for Johnny and Jane, anyone? By the time Mr. & Mrs. New Jersey settle down at home in their evenings, the last thing that is going to be on their mind is something called Extreme Risk Protective Orders, or ERPOs for short, AKA red flag gun confiscation, never mind it being law.
The Silence Of Gun Owners
There is a silent and not so silent population of gun owners in New Jersey. The not so silent ones can be found protesting at Trenton, getting involved in recall elections, heading lawsuits against the government, so on and so forth. The silent population of gun owners in New Jersey are silent, and why they are silent should chill every citizen of New Jersey, regardless of political affiliation.
We need to establish some ground rules here, firearms and the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution belong to every law-abiding legal citizen and legal resident alien. You don’t have to be a Republican to own, use, and or like firearms. And, just because you are a Democrat, that does not mean you have to hate firearms.
The New Jersey legislature, executive branch, and judicial branch would disagree with that. Murphy, his administration, and our current majority Democrat Assembly and Senate made ERPOs what they are, the law.
The fact is there are many closet gun owners in New Jersey because we live in a hoplophobic (irrational fear of guns) society in the Garden State. In short, should someone reveal they are a gun owner in NJ, they face possible issues with losing their job, being ostracized by family and friends, and now, the repercussions could be much worse. We live in a time where “swatting” is a thing…and the ERPOs leave a “legal” avenue for gun confiscation, which is ripe for abuse.
They’re A Danger, So Why Not Take Their Guns…? Enter Extreme Risk Protective Orders
What is an ERPO? In short, an Extreme Risk Protective Order is a vehicle that an individual can use to have firearms seized from someone else, on a temporary or permanent basis. The idea is the individual would be considered a danger to themselves or others. In New Jersey, a petitioner could be a family member, a household member, or a police officer. The petitioner would apply to a court that someone’s guns should be seized, by swearing under oath or supplying a written affidavit.
A mother is worried about some things her adult son has been saying. She has reason to believe that he may be suicidal. Knowing that her son has firearms, she applies for an ERPO to have his firearms seized. Should the judge find the mother’s story compelling enough, the police show up at her son’s home, unannounced, and they take all his firearms.
This is a win, no? It could be. Look at the multiple failures that lead to the Parkland shooting in Florida, where the actor should have been institutionalized based on the signs.
Continuing with our story:
The police do seize the son’s firearms, without an issue. Eventually, the temporary ERPO becomes a permanent one. Yet the son is deranged and does need help. He is suicidal. The son slits his wrists in his bathtub and dies from his self-inflicted wounds. Where was New Jersey?
What New Jersey does not tell you is that they don’t do anything to help any of the people who get their guns seized. They are deemed a threat and or danger, have their guns taken, and are cut free to go forward with whatever mayhem they want to, however else they want, just without a gun. What is the message? “We think you have issues, so we’re gonna take your guns, but not help you through this time.” This is no different from the failed restraining order system we have in place. The same system that lead to the murder-suicide of Ruth Reyes Severino and her children here in New Jersey, and the murder of Carol Bowne.
None of this is to marginalize the threat of unstable people and violence. If you feel you are in danger, and or a friend, family member, neighbor, etc. is a danger to society or themselves, call 9-1-1….Much quicker than applying to a court for any of these nonsensical pieces of paper. Think about that.
Ripe For Abuse
On or around February 8, 2020, the Howell Township Police department got a call describing a minivan of people with one of them waving a gun out the window. The police tracked down the minivan and found all occupants to be legal gun owners. The firearms were being stored beyond what New Jersey Statute deems necessary. The occupants were on their way to the shooting range. This is a prime example of someone trying to “get at” someone else. Whatever the back-story is here, an individual decided to use the fact that someone else was a gun owner against them. And it worked, for a short time. Luckily, the Howell Police are looking into the matter against the caller for making a false report.
The biggest issue with ERPOs is there is absolutely no due process. ERPOs violate the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, as well as Article I Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. In the case dealing with the minivan full of guys headed to the range, they were given their due process. An investigation happened, and the Police saw no charges should be brought, as they were not breaking the law. Super-size that now…Consider the same complainant going to the police department requesting they issue an ERPO against the minivan guy, stating he was threatening and menacing him. Complainant signs an affidavit full of all the violent behavior minivan guy allegedly exhibited towards the complainant, and next thing you know, a no-nock search warrant is being executed. Minivan guy loses his guns until he gets his day in court. In the meantime, minivan guy lost his right to self-protection and any prospects of engaging in any firearms-related activities.
Now, as a society, we all need to think about the implications of this. What if there is a bitter divorce going on? Could this be used against one of the people in the divorce? What if two neighbors have beef with each other? Could a neighbor petition the police to execute one of these? Use your imagination, because it has happened in the past and is happening now. The difference is, in the past, full investigations had to take place before any action was taken against someone.
If you called the police and there was a legitimate problem, they took the person’s guns after an investigation. Now, simply signing a paper can cause a whole slew of headaches for someone, just because.
Recently a gentleman had an ERPO levied against him because he left a bad review for his physician on a website. There is a lot to that story that is not getting out in mainstream media, and it’s not about to be transcribed here because a tort happy doctor is involved (but if you are so inclined, this podcast episode talks about it).
Some of the ERPOs executed have turned deadly, as was the case of Gary J. Willis.
A Class Action
There is now a case that has sprung up. On September 5, 2019, days after the new law came into effect, an ERPO was executed on David M. Greco. The complaint came from a police department. The complaint also lacked signatures from any actual complainant. Apparently, the department, not an actual officer (as outlined as an individual that can request an EPRO), was asking for this order. The petition cites an unidentified person at the FBI, and it stated:
Information was recently obtained through FBI contacts, that David Greco is involved in online anti-Semitism. Greco was found to be in contact with the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, before the mass shootings in both Ohio and El Paso. Precautions were taken and contact was made with Greco in coordination with the FBI. Officers reached out to Greco in regards to recent posts in the social media site gab.com. All previous social media accounts were blocked due to the nature of content. While talking to Greco, he appeared extremely intelligent to officer and did not mention acting on any violent behavior towards Jes. His behavior was methodical and focused on facts…
In response to the complaint, Greco’s attorney Albert J. Rescinio states:
First as to the underlying facts…these facts are alleged. The actual true facts are different than what they put in the application for the TERPO which was required to be signed by an individual but was not signed by anyone in violation of the ERPO act.
There are two things going on here.
First and foremost, as a matter of opinion, Greco’s anti-Semitism is not something I agree with. This is not something to subscribe to. However, it is his right to be anti-Semitic, no matter how much anyone wants to say it’s not. Greco is allowed to post these views on social media. Greco is allowed to spew whatever anti-Semitic nonsensical garbage as he wants to. Greco is allowed to be a bigot and expose himself as such in any manner he wishes. As long as someone is not inciting or advocating violence, guess what, this ugly language and these disgusting views are allowed. Had Greco been a real threat, he would be in a custodial situation, not just have had his guns seized. Think about that. The second part here is, watch out; your social media posts can land you in hot water! This case is an infringement on both the 2nd Amendment and has a chilling effect on the 1st Amendment.
Further from Rescinio:
…this is an issue of First Amendment rights. They are going after him because they do not like what he has to say. They have acknowledged in writing that he never threatened anyone but yet asked for the TERPO anyway. Also some of the statements that they made that he was in “contact with the Pittsburgh shooter” is not accurate. They make it sound like he knew this individual when he has made it clear that he did not know the individual nor did he agree with what the individual did.
Gerco has taken to the courts and is suing the State. David M. Greco, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated V. Gubir S. Grewal, New Jersey Attorney General, et al. was filed as Civil Action No. 3:19-cv-19145-BRM-TJB in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, Newark Vicinage as a class action suit. According to information from the Attorney General, approximately 1 to 2 ERPOs have been executed in New Jersey per day since the law came into effect. This is a class action for sure. According to Greco’s attorney, the rate of EPROs being issued is approximately 1.5 per day.
How does this really affect you? Depending on your views of our freedoms in this country and how they are handled or mishandled, this may not affect you at all. When the subject of ERPOs was brought up, gun rights groups approached the lawmakers to make sure additions to the law included harsh penalties for people that make false statements. No such provisions were included in the law, which should lead EVERY citizen in New Jersey to question the motives of the lawmakers and administration. Why should there not be specific and harsh penalties to keep people from abusing this?
On January 20, 2020, over 22,000 citizens descended upon the Virginia capitol. Gun owners from all over the state and country were there to protest the prospect of potential gun control laws. Of the 22,000, about 15,000 were openly armed. Not a single incident took place, and this was a peaceful protest. Virginia’s State legislature recently switched to a majority Democrat control. Monies supplied by Bloomberg and the ilk of his red shirt-wearing comrades were pumped into these races in the 2019 election, and it’s time to pay the piper – by enacting gun control.
Have you heard about sanctuary cities? That is cities or municipalities that have resolved not to follow federal immigration laws. The subject is now coming to a boiling point, and federal charges are going to be levied against the leadership of these municipalities. In lockstep, the gun right’s community, on a grassroots level, has decided to make sanctuaries of their own. Virginia currently has over 100 cities and counties that have passed 2nd Amendment Sanctuary resolutions, communicating to the State, Country, and World at large, that they do not condone or agree with further restrictions to their rights. This revolution is spreading to other states, including New Jersey.
What does Virginia have to do with New Jersey? If you were to compare the gun control laws between New Jersey and Virginia, you would see that the two states deal with this topic very differently – in the past, that is. New Jersey is onerous and very unfriendly towards guns and gun owners. Not only that, the citizens of New Jersey are so stuck in a Stockholm syndrome, that they too have ingested much of the false rhetoric of the antigun machine. Our comrades in those red shirts funded by Bloomberg spew falsehoods upon open ears and cite things like “gun safety,” but not a single time has anyone heard these groups actually teach gun safety. Virginia, on the other hand, is comprised of many citizens that not only own firearms but carry them (you can’t do that in New Jersey). Across the entire state of Virginia, firearms and freedom are a part of normal life. With all the sanctuary movements and protests, Virginia’s legislature has moved to pass gun control laws still, and of those laws, ERPOs are on the slate.
Our rights are being stripped from us by the political machine. It does not matter if the people have spoken. Interestingly enough, it does not matter to the leadership of Virginia that the heavily armed people have spoken and are speaking. We are slowly turning into subjects and surrendering our identities of being citizens.
If you’re a gun owner, the threats are very real to you and your family. Not only are attacks coming down from our lawmakers, now you have to worry about people possibly filing false ERPOs. If you’re not a gun owner, or for that matter, you’re straight up anti-gun, you ought to pay attention to what is happening around you. While it may seem harmless for the rights of “those people” to be stripped, remember, and realize that you’re next.
If the war against legal gun owners ends in defeat of freedom, what liberties do you think are going to be attacked next? What happens when your political agenda does not align with the state or your opponent’s? With states considering outlawing words that maybe menacing to others, like is the case of Massachusetts trying to make it a crime to use the “B” word, with State Rep. Daniel Hunt’s (D–Boston) H. 3719. A good question to Representative Hunt is “What shall we do? Use the ‘C’ word instead?”
A stunning display of ignorance I think we all need to pay attention to is a quote In the New York State Rifle & Pistol Club V. City of New York Case no. 18-280 oral arguments in the Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor, in December of 2019, makes a disturbingly stupid statement about the First Amendment when being compared to the Second Amendment:
“…but, if you're looking at a First Amendment right to speak, it's never absolute. There are some words that are not protected. We're going to have a different fight about that at some point.”
Sorry, Justice Sotomayor; all words are protected. As much as you may wish to impose restrictions on one's expression and have that “fight,” words are constitutionally protected. No matter how ugly or disgusting a person and or their opinion is, they are protected under the First Amendment. As long as there is no harassment or threats of harm, people can be as disgusting as they wish. Taking into consideration that this affects everyone! Note that the movements to restrict expression are already in play.
Greco’s attorney Albert J. Rescinio puts it best when asked for comment:
“This is not just about guns and Second Amendment rights. This is about multiple fundamental constitutional rights. If people don't band together to stand up for their fundamental constitutional rights they're going to find that they lose them. Right now it is say something we don't like and will take your guns without notice. The next thing will be say something we don't like and will throw you in prison without notice.”
If anyone should have an ERPO imposed on them, it should be the activist Judges, legislators, and executives. The oath breakers should be stripped of their power to inflict harm on the citizenry in the way they restrict our rights.
Sound the alarm. Our rights are under attack! Who can we call? Where is our affidavit, and where do we sign?
John Petrolino is a US Merchant Marine Officer, writer, author of Decoding Firearms: An Easy to Read Guide on General Gun Safety & Use and NRA certified pistol, rifle and shotgun instructor living under and working to change New Jersey’s draconian and unconstitutional gun laws. You can find him on the web at www.johnpetrolino.com on twitter at @johnpetrolino and on instagram @jpetrolinoiii