Personal Freedom

Supreme Court Ruling Delegitimizes Red Flag Laws

Landon Hooley is a policy intern at Libertas Institute and a student at Brigham Young University. 

Feeling irrationally angry after an argument with his wife in 2015, the police were called on firearm owner Edward Caniglia to perform a welfare check. He agreed to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the hospital to determine suicidality on the condition that police not confiscate his guns. 

Upon returning to his home, however, Caniglia found that the police had unconstitutionally searched his house and seized his firearms. 

For the first time in 13 years, the Court upheld both privacy and gun rights, this time unanimously. Caniglia v. Strom’s 9-0 decision has the potential to create lasting effects and set precedent as powerful as was DC v. Heller in 2008.

Incredibly, after Caniglia sued the officers, the First District court ruled in favor of the police officers and incorrectly claimed the seizure was justified under a “community caretaking exception” to the Fourth Amendment. In essence, the court tried to equate the police stopping to help a disabled vehicle on the side of the road to an illegal search of a private residence.

Caniglia appealed his case until it was received by the Supreme Court in 2021. Justice Thomas succinctly expressed the majority opinion of all nine justices that such an overt violation of the Fourth Amendment was obviously unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court rightly protected the sanctity of the home on May 17th’s landmark decision. The First District court’s inadequately reasoned “caretaking exception” is an example of a ruse often used by the state when individual rights prevent it from getting what it wants. 

This reaffirmation of both privacy and Second Amendment rights should give pause to advocates of red flag laws. Posing as defenders of public safety, red flag laws bypass the Second and Fourth Amendments while simultaneously abolishing due process.

Libertas Institute consistently defends both Second and Fourth Amendment rights and has previously fought against red flag laws, which have been proposed in Utah as recently as 2020.

Within the context of red flag laws, a person may call on the police to conduct a warrantless intrusion into their neighbor’s home to illegally seize their firearms under the slightest suspicion that a firearm owner may pose some public danger. Only after proving their innocence before a court where they have been presumed guilty of pre-crime can the law-abiding citizen possibly retrieve their property.

If Caniglia v. Strom teaches us anything, it is that the government cannot justify itself around the Fourth Amendment to invade private residences based on fear or gut feeling. 

The court’s decision serves as a reminder that the public must continually call out unconstitutional practices and push back the encroaching vines of arbitrary government intervention in order to retain their rights.
Without a valid warrant, a person’s home remains a sanctuary, “free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.”