Seizure of Personally Owned Weapons and the UCMJ

The firm often fields questions about whether or not the command or police authorities can seize personally owned weapons from service members. As many issues in the law, it depends.

A search warrant or other valid authority is required for law-enforcement to search for evidence, but there are other legal reasons why law-enforcement may be able to enter a private residence, even without a warrant. One of those reasons is to seize firearms under a court order or commander’s order.

Civilian judges regularly issue protective orders that require people to surrender their personally owned firearms to the police. These court orders can give police authority to come into the home and collect firearms, depending on the specifics of that state law. Sometimes that process involves a warrant, sometimes not, and really depends on the state and its local laws.

Commanders have a lot of power over individual servicemembers, especially when they suspect misconduct has been committed.

Under the UCMJ, a “search authorization” is the equivalent of a warrant. A warrant or authorization is NOT required for a unit to collect firearms from a Soldier’s residence. Understand that as frustrating as it may be, a commander may order a service member to surrender their weapons, and, as part of enforcement of that order, unit representatives may enter a home and collect weapons if they know that the weapons are in that home. This typically happens because the servicemember resides in military quarters and has registered those weapons with the installation. [Note: this is not an invitation or recommendation to not register your weapons. In fact, we recommend the opposite. Failure to register your firearms is itself punishable under the UCMJ.]

[Realize that what can compound issues is if, during the course of an otherwise lawful act of entry and seizure of certain items, if other evidence of a crime is visible to those conducting the seizure.]

We understand more than most that having the police or unit come enter your home and seize your personal property and particularly your firearms can be an upsetting event. Seizure of your personally owned firearms and entry of your residence can feel like an invasion and as though your most solemn rights are being violated. Stress is compounded, especially if the seizure is related to you being under investigation. We strongly encourage anyone who has suffered a seizure of their personally owned weapons from their residence to seek the advice of an attorney, so they better understand what is happening. A firm that specializes in military justice can give you answers and help you protect yourself

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