A special task force in California took away a citizen’s guns without just cause and deemed the entire incident a “big mistake.” Michael Merritt of Bakersfield, was shocked when gun task force members showed up on his door and confiscated his guns.The agents seized 18 weapons and kept them for weeks until the agency officials decided a mistake had been made and gave Michael Merritt his firearms back.
The California special task force was created in 2001 under Senate Bill 950. The Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS) check through lists of gun owners and compare names with a database showing all residents not legally entitled to own firearms. Merritt said that when he opened the door. the members of the special task force immediately began asking questions about his guns. The California gun owner had this to say about police officers taking his firearms:
“It was just the worst feeling. It’s a loss of your liberty, or your rights. I almost passed out when they said they wanted all my guns. I thought, he’s here to get me guns for some reason. He says, ‘You have a felony here from 1970.’ I said, ‘A felony?’ A pot possession charge from 1970.”
The California police officers presented Merritt with a printout of the four decades-old charge. The document listed the offense under statute of 11910, the charge originated in Los Angeles. As the gun owner noted, such an offense no longer exists. Anyone without an easy to get medical marijuana permit is simply issued a ticket and pays a fine for minor pot possession. When local journalists followed up on the man’s assertion that no such felony is still on the books, they discovered that he was absolutely correct.
According to Merritt’s recollection, the crime may not have even been at the time. He maintains that he spend five weekends self-reporting to jail for the minor pot possession charge. Guns seized by the California special task force include weapons his wife had inherited and five registered handguns.
Karla Merritt had this to say about the police officers coming into their home and confiscating guns:
“We told them to leave the house and go get a warrant, and they said that’s fine. But, when we get the warrant and we come back, you’re going to jail.”
Days after Merritt’s guns were taken he received a phone call from a special task force team member who informed him that the guns would be returned. “Why did you do this? What’s going on,” the California man asked the law enforcement agent. The man on the other side of the phone said simply, “We made a big mistake.” Thankfully the couple were not the victims of a home invasion during the weeks they were left without a sufficient way to defend themselves.
Excerpt from an Armed and Prohibited Persons System fact sheet issued by the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris:
“APPS cross-references five databases to find people who legally purchased handguns and registered assault weapons since 1996 with those prohibited from owning or possessing firearms.”
The gun confiscation unit falls under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms division. As unidentified assistant chief at the Bureau of Firearms told local news media that Michael Merritt did initially show up as having a felony conviction when task force agents cross referenced two lists. If the database and lists hold enough power to strip a resident of their Second Amendment rights, then the files should contain extremely accurate information.
When contacted by Eyewitness News a Bureau of Firearms representative said that in the Merritt case the agents were working from court records which had not been updated. The spokesman also said that “sometimes” court documents and not entered correctly into the database. The governmental agency ultimately admitted that the 1970 conviction had been not a felony but a misdemeanor.
The law enforcement official also noted that even though Merritt told the agents he was not convicted of a felony, he did not have the decades old paperwork to back up his claims. When asked how often confiscated guns are returned to citizens in California, the spokesman said that he did not have “hard numbers” but that such incidents do “sometimes” happen.
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