Following the shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan has become one of the leading advocates in Broward County for changing laws to improve school safety.
Ryan called for several gun control measures, including the need to address mental health and guns, in the political blog browardbeat.com.
Now someone committed involuntarily for 72 hours under the Baker Act (as a danger to themselves or others) will have their guns returned to them by the police automatically and immediately upon discharge after 72 hours AND their commitment is never entered into a background check database, said Ryan. As a result, there is also no impediment or second thought given to someone being released and purchasing a gun.
Ryans claim, made in a guest column for the blog on Jan. 14, suggests that its a cinch for someone committed under the Baker Act to reclaim their guns and then stay off lists that would ban them from getting a new one. We decided to check it out.
Under the Baker Act, law enforcement can take someone against his or her will to a facility for a mental health evaluation if the person is a danger to themselves or others. A person cant be held involuntarily for longer than 72 hours, but a medical expert needs to examine the person and sign off on his or her release.
The simple act of being held under the Baker Act doesnt mean the person is mentally ill or in need of commitment. In 2010, less than 1 percent of about 140,000 involuntary examinations led to involuntary placement in a mental health treatment facility, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. (That number doesnt account for people who voluntarily remained in facilities.)
We couldnt find data regarding how often someone who is Baker Acted has a firearm taken.
Most individuals dont have weapons at the time of the Baker Act, said Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman, who chairs judicial committees on mental health.
But interviews with attorneys, law enforcement officers and experts on the Baker Act revealed that it does happen.
Whether the law enforcement agency takes the gun for safekeeping depends on the specific case, they said.
For example, if a wife reports that her husband is despondent and has a gun and he is Baker Acted at home, police would take the gun, said Col. Jim Previtera of the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office. But if someone is Baker Acted on the street and didnt have a gun with him, the sheriffs office wouldnt go to the home and seize the gun.
For evidence of Ryans claim, he pointed us to a 2009 Florida attorney generals opinion. It specifically states that law-abiding people who are released under the Baker Act should get their guns back.
In the absence of an arrest and criminal charge against the person sent for evaluation under Floridas Baker Act, [law enforcement] may not retain firearms confiscated from such persons and retained by that office, concluded then Attorney General Bill McCollum.
The opinion didnt outline procedures for gun retrieval. So in practice, that means there is absolutely no consistency around the state in how this is being practiced, said former state Baker Act director Martha Lenderman, who now trains law enforcement.