Don Hall was sitting in his living room watching TV with his girlfriend about 9:30 p.m. earlier this year when he was startled by flashing police car lights in his driveway.
Hall met the Oneida County sheriff’s deputies in the driveway, worried that they were bringing bad news about a family member.
Instead, the deputies produced an official document demanding that Hall, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran who is a retired pipefitter, turn over his guns to them on the spot. On the document Hall said he was described as “mentally defective.”
When Hall told police he’d never had any mental issues, Hall said, deputies told him he must have done something that triggered the order under the New York state’s SAFE Act.
The deputies left that night with six guns – two handguns and four long guns.
Hall, who lives in the Oneida County hamlet of Taberg, hired a lawyer and secured affidavits from local hospitals to prove he hadn’t been recently treated. At one point, he was told he’d have to get some of his guns back from a gun shop.
Eventually, his lawyer convinced a judge that authorities had him confused with someone else who had sought care and that his weapons should never have been seized.
To this day, no one at a hospital or the state and local agencies involved in taking Hall’s guns has admitted to Hall that a mistake was made, explained what happened or apologized. A county judge did acknowledge the mistake and helped him get his guns back.
Hall said the ordeal was frustrating.
“I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent,” Hall said. “They don’t tell you why or what you supposedly did. It was just a bad screw-up.”
Under what legal authority Hall’s guns were confiscated is in disagreement.
Hall and his lawyer said they are convinced his guns were taken as a result of a report under the NY SAFE Act. The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act was adopted in 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newton, Conn.
The law includes, among other things, a provision for health providers to report patients that they believe are a risk to harm others or themselves.