President Joe Biden has long declared his desire to impose restrictions on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but he recently indicated that he also thinks the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizures are too broad.
According to the Washington Examiner, the Biden administration will soon be arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that police officers should be allowed to enter a suspect’s home and seize legally owned firearms without first obtaining a warrant.
Background on the case
The position stems from an amicus brief filed in the case of Caniglia v. Strom in which a homeowner’s handguns were taken by police without a warrant or his knowledge in the aftermath of a nonviolent domestic incident between him and his wife.
Reports from the Examiner and elsewhere indicate that in 2015, Edward Caniglia handed his wife a handgun and instructed her to shoot him, which she did not. He ended up leaving the residence and returned later to find that his wife had spent the night in a hotel.
The following morning, Caniglia’s wife reportedly asked police officers to conduct a wellness check on him. Following a discussion outside of the home, he voluntarily agreed to undergo a psychiatric exam at a hospital.
Caniglia was reportedly released without being admitted, but not before officers had confiscated his firearms and forced him to file suit, leading to a months-long fight before they were returned.
Officers involved in that incident relied upon a novel exception to the Fourth Amendment, known as the “community caretaking” exemption, and lower courts upheld that as a reasonable and permissible move.
Details of the exemption
In this and similar incidents, the Biden administration is arguing that warrants and probable cause do not apply since officers were engaged in a “non-investigatory” action and had “reasonable” concerns about the safety of an individual or the general public.
“Government officials may thus constitutionally enter a home when a serious threat to lives or health justifies immediate intervention, so long as those officials act in a reasonable manner tailored to addressing the particular threat that justified their entry,” the administration argued in the brief.
Critics of that position, on the other hand, contend that it is not consistent with the view of the framers who wrote the Fourth Amendment, nor does it align with the original reasoning behind the “community caretaking” exception that has been steadily expanded to include broader uses.
A counter brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cato Institute, and the American Conservative Union laid out in detail how the exception, derived from a 1973 court case, was narrowly applied to police being permitted to search an impounded or abandoned vehicle in order to inventory its contents while in police custody.
According to the Washington Examiner, Joshua Windham of the Institute of Justice, which filed a separate brief in the case, declared: “A rule that allows police to burst into your home without a warrant whenever they feel they are acting as ‘community caretakers’ is a threat to everyone’s security.”