California officials took away a man’s guns without just cause – then deemed the entire incident a “big mistake.”
The Bakersfield man was understandably shocked when state agents showed up on his doorstep and demanded all of his guns. The law enforcement officers seized 18 weapons and kept them for weeks until the special task force decided a mistake had been made and gave Michael Merritt his firearms back.
Merritt said when he opened the door, the members of the special task force immediately began asking questions about his guns:
It was just the worst feeling. It’s a loss of your liberty, of your rights. I almost passed out when they said they wanted all my guns. I thought, he’s here to get my 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, according to KBAK/KBFX, presented Merritt with a printout of the four-decade-old charge. As the gun owner noted, such an offense no longer exists. When local journalists followed up on the man’s assertion that no such crime is still on the books, they discovered that he was correct.
According to Merritt’s recollection, he received probation and a $100 fine. Guns seized by the California special task force include weapons his wife had inherited and five registered handguns.
Said his wife, Karla Merritt:
We told them to leave the house and go get a warrant, and they said that’s fine. [They responded,] ‘But, when we get the warrant and we come back, you’re going to jail.’
The California special task force was created in 2001 under Senate Bill 950. They use what’s called the Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS), which checks through lists of gun owners and compares names with a database showing all residents not legally entitled to own firearms.
An excerpt from an Armed and Prohibited Persons System fact sheet states:
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 Bureau of Firearms in the state Department of Justice division, according to KBAK/KBFX. As unidentified assistant chief at the Bureau of Firearms told the stations that Michael Merritt did initially show up as having a felony conviction when task force agents cross referenced two lists.
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 days they did not have any firearms. He was without his guns from Nov. 5 to Nov. 21.
When contacted by KBAK/KBFX reporters, 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 are 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 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.