WINCHESTER — A man whose guns were seized in Frederick County’s first enforcement of Virginia’s new red flag law has had them returned.
The man, who The Winchester Star isn’t naming because he wasn’t charged with a crime, appeared at a substantial risk order hearing in Frederick County Circuit Court on Friday. He said his son and father lied about him allegedly pulling a pistol on his son in their home on Sept. 2.
“The red flag law is wrong because anybody who is spiteful can have someone’s guns taken from them,” the man told Judge Alexander R. Iden prior to having his guns returned. “I go hunting every year in Romney, West Virginia, and there’s a chance I might miss hunting season.”
In response to the complaint, the county Sheriff’s Office had seized two semi-automatic rifles, a hunting rifle and three pistols from the man under an emergency risk order. The law, which took effect on July 1, is designed to reduce gun deaths by removing guns from people deemed a danger to themselves or others. A hearing must be held within 14 days of the seizure to allow the gun owner to request the return of their guns. A judge then decides whether to return them or hold them for up to 180 days under a substantial risk order.
The man’s father had an emergency protective order issued against his son on Sept. 2 that expired on Tuesday and wasn’t renewed. The man said if his father was afraid of him he would have renewed the order. He said he’s returned home, and he and his father are back on good terms. But Deputy Samantha Garrison testified that the elderly father was shaking when he made the allegations to her at the Frederick County Public Safety Building on Sept. 2.
“He told me he had no other option,” Garrison said. “He was afraid when his grandson came home from work that something was going to happen.”
Garrison said she spoke by phone to the grandson. He said he made a sarcastic remark to his father on a stairway in their home and his father pointed a revolver at him. “[He] said he didn’t initially report it because because his dad has done crazy things like that before and he is used to it,” Garrison said.
However, the man told Iden that he was falsely accused. He said it was payback for him calling police in 2018 on his son for allegedly receiving a marijuana THC wax in the mail. The case was dismissed last year. “My son has had a grudge against me ever since, and my father was outraged that I called police on him,” the man said.
The man said his son’s allegation that “expletive would hit the fan” when his father’s bank account was empty was false because he has some $9,000 in the bank. He said he owned eight guns and believes his son stole two of them. He denied his father’s allegation that he said he wanted to get the entire family together to kill them and said he gets along well with his brother and sister.
The man also noted that his father and son didn’t show up in court to testify. Andrew M. Robbins, deputy commonwealth’s attorney, told Iden that was because they were afraid of the man.
In an interview after the hearing, Robbins said the man’s father hadn’t returned his calls about testifying. The son has moved out of the home and Robbins said an investigator was unable to serve the son with a subpoena because he couldn’t locate at him at his job. Robbins compared the civil case to a domestic violence complaint in which accusers contact police but are afraid to follow through with the case.
“It’s discouraging for the commonwealth. All we can do is try and pray that this doesn’t go south,” he said. “The gentleman is having his firearms returned to him, and we just hope that he uses them safely and doesn’t use them to injure himself or anyone else.”
Robbins said he understood the verdict given the lack of witness testimony. Iden said the seizure required “clear and convincing evidence” — a legal standard that is greater than a “preponderance of evidence” and less than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in a criminal case. “There are no witnesses that say a gun was pointed at them,” Iden said in denying the seizure motion.
Virginia is one of about 19 states with red flag laws, passed in response to gun deaths involving mentally ill people and in domestic violence cases. In 2017, nearly 40,000 people — including nearly 24,000 suicides — were killed by guns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But gun rights supporters say the law infringes on their Second Amendment rights. Thousands of protesters, many armed with semi-automatic rifles and pistols, protested in Richmond in January against the law and other gun safety measures. It passed in the Democratic-controlled legislature over Republican opposition.