G entering the courtroom

G enters the courtroom a few weeks ago, where a judge would decide whether his guns would be returned. He is using a cane, he said, because of a work accident last fall.

A husband and wife in Battle Ground discovered two of their 4H ducks dead under their porch, their heads apparently stomped in. It was a snowy night with temperatures below freezing.

The couple was sure the perpetrator was their 37-year-old next-door neighbor, G, a known methamphetamine user, according to court records. The Exponent has decided not to identify him, because a judge has since declared he is no longer a dangerous person.

The couple feared for their safety because G had accused them of having an affair with his wife, they told police. G was also convinced that the couple had a device that was broadcasting “sonic noises” that were “melting his brain.”

After the couple went to bed in the early morning of Feb. 29, 2020, G drove to their house intending to destroy the sonic device. He bashed the couple’s car with a 3-foot-long metal pipe, banged on their windows, and returned to his property, court records say. The couple told police G was “high on meth” and “not acting right.”

Officers found G waiting with his hands up. He didn’t resist as officers cuffed him and patted him down, then was transported to St. Elizabeth East Hospital for psychiatric treatment. There, he told deputies that he heard voices that scared him so badly he wanted to shoot himself.

G had, he estimated, 20 to 30 guns on his property. An investigator, believing he “posed not only a danger to himself but to others,” applied for a Laird Law Warrant, which allowed officers to search G’s property and confiscate his firearms. Officers confiscated 44 handguns, rifles and shotguns.

Jake Laird laws, also known as red flag laws, allow Indiana law enforcement officers to seize firearms from “mentally unstable or dangerous” individuals. Jake Laird laws define a “dangerous person” as an “individual who presents an imminent risk of personal injury to himself/herself or to another individual.”

“We have to get a warrant to do searches for guns,” Lafayette Police Chief Scott Galloway said in a recent interview. “But if somebody has an obvious gun in plain view or there are extra circumstances, we can seize the guns without a warrant with these red flag laws.”

Galloway said extra circumstances can include reports from concerned family members who say a gun owner is intending to harm themselves or somebody else.

“The officer has to verify that, so we can’t just take somebody’s word for it,” Galloway said. “Maybe we find somebody who’s intoxicated and talking about killing themselves. That’s when we would use this law.

“If we do seize a gun, or any firearms, we have 48 hours to notify the prosecutor’s office and fill out a form in order to get a court case,” Galloway said.

If the officer seized guns without a warrant and the court finds no probable cause that the owner is dangerous, the guns must be returned within five days. If probable cause is found, the court must hold a hearing within 14 days of the seizure to determine whether the owner is dangerous. If they are found dangerous, their handgun license will be suspended and they are prohibited from renting, receiving, owning or possessing handguns.

“There’s a loophole where somebody who’s had their guns seized, before the 14-day hearing happens, they can go out and buy another gun,” Galloway said.

If the court decides an individual is dangerous, they can file a petition for the return of their firearms 180 days after the seizure.

Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington did not respond to attempts to ask him for more information about the county’s use of the red flag law, including statistics here.

Using a tool

Jake Laird laws were passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2005 after an officer by the same name was shot and killed by an unstable Indianapolis man named Kenneth Anderson. In January 2004, Anderson was taken to an emergency psychiatric hospital. Officers confiscated several guns from his homes but had no legal authority to retain them. Five months later, Anderson killed his mother, officer Jake Laird and himself.

While Jake Laird laws give law enforcement a system for keeping guns away from dangerous people, they are not always used to their full extent, sometimes with deadly results.

News reports from last year detail the account of a such a missed opportunity: The mother of 19-year-old Brandon Hole told police in March 2020 her son was suicidal. A shotgun was confiscated from their home. Police filed Jake Laird law paperwork, but Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears never pursued a court hearing, which would have suspended his firearm rights. In April 2021, Brandon shot and killed eight people and then himself at an Indianapolis FedEx facility.

“Because we have 14 days, our ability to have access to meaningful medical history, meaningful mental health records is severely limited,” Mears later told a reporter.

A similar case was reported by the IndyStar in December 2021. On June 21, 2020, Jason Phipps threatened his wife, Jill, with a .45-caliber handgun. Jason was aggressive toward the responding officer, who noted bruises on Jill’s neck and lips. Police seized the handgun but never filed a case against him. Jason fatally shot Jill 17 days later.

In the wake of this summer’s deadly mass shootings, more states have adopted such laws. President Joe Biden signed into law a gun safety law last weekend that, in part, gives states incentives to pass such laws.

After the dark moments

More than two years after the duck-killing and car-bashing incidents, G filed a petition for the return of his firearms.

Deputy Prosecutor Matt Lowry said in a hearing earlier this month that there had been no incidents since the seizure, so the prosecution could present no evidence that G is still a dangerous person.

G told Tippecanoe Circuit Judge Sean Persin he didn’t petition for his firearms to be returned 180 days after the incident because of the “fear he instilled in people.”

“When they took my guns, I voluntarily waited so long for everyone’s comfort,” G said. “I missed deer season. They took my black powder rifle. I only need one shot at 200 yards.

“I never openly carried my big boy guns, that wasn’t my style,” G said. “I grew up as a defensive, not an offensive person.”

He said he is no longer suicidal but that “even in his darkest moments, he never turned to a gun.”

G has been attending weekly therapy sessions, as well as working with his pastor on his mental health.

“I took it upon myself to use the biblical side of healing,” G said.

Although G said he attempted to attend substance abuse treatment, he was not able to because of the wait time.

G said he owns 44 guns because of his love for hunting and shooting. Most of his guns are family heirlooms, and the rest were purchased legally. He said thinking of the incident makes him “ill with embarrassment.” He has had no contact with his neighbors.

“Meth can do something to our brains that causes paranoia,” Persin said. “I think you learned that the hard way.”

Persin ruled that if G could pass a hair follicle drug screen, his guns would be returned. Court records indicate that G’s guns were returned to him on June 15.

G said after court that he was “very happy” with the judge’s decision and that he plans to sell the majority of his guns.

“I believe, in the right hands, a gun can save lives,” G said, his eyes shining with emotion.

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