A 70-year-old New York veteran spent months fighting to get his guns back after being wrongfully targeted for confiscation after a bureaucratic screw-up labeled him mentally ill.
Don Hall, who served in Vietnam, said police showed up at his house late one night with an order to take his guns. Hall said he was surprised by the order and didn't have any idea why it declared him "mentally defective." When he told police he hadn't ever had any mental issues, they told him he must've done something to trigger the state's restrictive New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act.
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"They said that they never did this to anybody that they didn't know why they were doing it," Hall told Syracuse.com. "I said ‘well, I don't know why.'"
The police then took six guns from Hall—four long guns and two handguns.
Hall and his lawyer believe the confiscation was the result of a report filed under the SAFE Act, as police told Hall the night of the confiscation. However, the New York Office of Mental Health told Syracuse.com the confiscation was initiated under federal law, which requires hospitals to report when somebody has been involuntarily committed. Either way, Hall said nobody would tell him what he was supposed to have done wrong or listen to his claims of innocence.
"I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent," Hall told the publication. "They don't tell you why or what you supposedly did. It was just a bad screw-up."
On the advice of his lawyer, Hall began to contact local hospitals in an attempt to get them to certify that he had not been treated for any mental health conditions. At one hospital, Hall told the paper that a clerk "turned white as a ghost" when she read him a file with a matching name but slightly different Social Security number. Hall said that matched a mistake he noticed with the Social Security number listed on the confiscation order police showed him.
"I'm surprised it sailed through the way it did with a man who has a spotless record," John Panzone, Hall's lawyer, told the paper. "To me, presumption of innocence is the foundation of our system, and this provision doesn't allow for that."
Eventually, Hall and his lawyer were able to convince Oneida County Judge Michael Dwyer that it was a case of mistaken identity. Dwyer then ordered Hall's guns be returned to him.
The National Rifle Association said on Friday the confiscation was due to a combination of firearm registration and bureaucratic incompetence.
"While Don Hall eventually got back his firearms, he had to spend considerable time and money to establish his innocence, and none of the entities or officials involved are taking responsibility for the mistakes that led to the seizure, much less offering to compensate him for his efforts and trouble," the group said on its website. "And for every person like Don Hall with the means and determination to challenge arbitrary and unjustified government action, there are surely many more who will simply cut their losses without putting up a fight."
The gun rights group said the ordeal is a result of "anti-gun fanaticism."
"Which all just goes to show that when it comes to anti-gun fanaticism, trampling the rights of the innocent has always been the cost of doing business," the group said.
New York's Office of Mental Health is currently investigating how the mistake that led to Hall's guns being confiscated happened in the first place.