Tuesday, March 04, 2008, 11:10 PM

Fourth Circuit Rejects 1983 Claim

Today, in Mora v. City of Gaithersburg, the Fourth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Wilkinson, rejected a Section 1983 claim brought by a man who sued over searches of his property and seizures of numerous weapons he owned. Plaintiff, a firefighter, was a licensed firearms gun collector. He was searched and his weapons were seized after he informed a healthcare hotline operator (after his girlfriend broke up with him) that he was suicidal, had weapons in his apartment, and could understand shooting people at work. Judge Wilkinson began his opinion with this provocative introduction:

"At Columbine High School in Littleton, in Blacksburg, Omaha, and Oklahoma City, America has had to learn how many victims the violence of just one or two outcasts can claim. These new predators are not terrorists in the ordinary sense; they are not linked to foreign powers or international organizations hostile to the United States. They are often isolated but heavily armed, filled to the brim with rage and anguish, and bent not just on murder, but on indiscriminate slaughter followed, frequently, by suicide. Violent derangement is nothing new, of course, but the atrocities seem to be growing at once more shocking and more commonplace.

"This case presents the question of what emergency preventive action police may take, consistent with the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, when they learn of an individual who may well intend a similar slaughter, but who has neither committed nor attempted any crime. The legal issues are somewhat novel, and so we proceed with two values in mind: the need to prevent massacres whose human costs are beyond comprehension, and the need to preserve civil liberty for those who may be angry and depressed but not ultimately violent, and who cannot under our constitutional traditions be treated like criminals when they have committed no crime."

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