A 70-year-old Vietnam vet who lives in central New York was visited by sheriff’s deputies at 9:30 p.m. one night in February. They had a court order claiming he’d been deemed mentally unfit, and under the state’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act or Brady Act—no one seems to agree which one triggered really the event—he had to surrender all of his firearms. Recently the vet was reunited with his guns.
Don Hall turned over two handguns and four long guns to the officers when they arrived, but none of it made sense. He hadn’t been committed or even seen a psychiatrist. In fact, his last visit to a hospital was four years ago to undergo testing for sleep apnea.
He engaged attorney John Panzone, and a followed his advice to collect statements from all four Utica, NY, hospitals attesting to the fact he wasn’t admitted or treated for any mental condition. The one he did visit, however, read back a slightly different social security number when he inquired about his records.
His lawyer told the New York Upstate it looks like another patient named Hall sought help for mental health issues in Oneida County. When the social security numbers were comingled between the two vastly different treatments, law enforcement was dispatched to confiscated the wrong man’s firearms.
The court ultimately recognized the error and reunited him with his firearms in July. Paying for legal counsel and patiently wading through the judicial process was frustrating for Hall. “I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent,” He said. “They don’t tell you why or what you supposedly did. It was just a bad screw-up.”
“I’m surprised it sailed through the way it did with a man who has a spotless record,” Panzone said. “To me, presumption of innocence is the foundation of our system, and this provision doesn’t allow for that.”