Lawsuit Alleges Michigan Agency Told Grandfather He’d Have to Give Up Gun Rights to Foster His Grandson

'If you want to care for your grandson you will have to give up some of your constitutional rights'

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A lawsuit filed in federal court on Monday alleges the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) violated the gun rights of foster parents.

Caseworkers from MDHHS and a county judge told William Johnson of Ontonagon, Mich., that he had to choose between his Second Amendment rights and fostering his grandson, according to a complaint filed with the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The 54-year-old Johnson is a retired, disabled Marine with a Michigan Concealed Pistol License. He and his wife were asked by the state of Michigan to foster their grandson. According to Johnson's suit, however, the issues began as soon as he arrived at MDHHS to pick up the child.

Johnson said he was searched for a firearm and, although he was not carrying a gun, officials demanded to see his concealed carry license. He was then told he would need to give MDHHS the serial numbers of all of his firearms, including rifles and shotguns, and register them with the agency. After questioning why he would have to register his firearms in order to foster his grandson, Johnson said he was told by one caseworker, "if you want to care for your grandson you will have to give up some of your constitutional rights." When he objected, he was told there would not be a "power struggle" and MDHHS "would just take his grandson and place him in a foster home" if he didn't comply with their requests.

Two weeks later, during a hearing on placement of the child, Johnson said a Gogebic County Court judge similarly told him, "if you want to care for your grandson you will have to give up some of your constitutional rights."

Michigan requires that anyone who wants to be a foster parent must register his handguns with the state as well as keep the guns unloaded and locked in a safe separate from the ammunition. Foster parents in states like Nevada and Oklahoma have challenged similar laws in recent years after being denied foster children over their legally owned firearms. The case against MDHHS also features plaintiffs Brian and Naomi Mason, who said the gun regulations keep them from becoming foster parents.

The Second Amendment Foundation, which is party to the suit, said the actions of MDHHS were "outrageous," and the policy violates the civil rights of Michigan foster parents.

"The statements from the caseworker and judge are simply outrageous," Alan Gottlieb, the group's founder, said in a statement. "This amounts to coercion, with a child as their bartering chip. I cannot recall ever hearing anything so offensive and egregious, and we've handled cases like this in the past. Blatantly telling someone they must give up their civil rights in order to care for their own grandchild is simply beyond the pale."

MDHHS said it could not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit because the case is still ongoing. "Our department generally does not comment on pending litigation," Bob Wheaton, MDHHS public information officer, told the Washington Free Beacon.

Gottlieb said the lawsuit was a necessary step in ensuring public officials respect people's rights. "This is a case we simply must pursue," he said. "State agencies and the people who work in those agencies simply cannot be allowed to disregard someone’s civil rights."

Stephen Gutowski   Email Stephen | Full Bio | RSS
Stephen Gutowski is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He founded his own site as a junior in college and has been writing about news and politics since that time. He spent 4 years with the Media Research Center and was most recently with the Capitol City Project. His email address is Gutowski@FreeBeacon.com. His twitter handle is @StephenGutowski.

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