A Seattle man, who made multiple gun violence threats on social media, had his guns returned to him by a judge.

Charles Donnelly had his firearms, all legally owned, confiscated in mid-October after multiple threatening social media posts. Several weeks later, he returned to court and testified that the posts were only jokes. His lawyer, Derek Smith, argued that because Mr. Donnelly had no prior history of criminal or drug issues, the seizure is an infringement on Mr. Donnelly’s First and Second Amendment rights. The judged agreed and ordered the return of the firearms.

The guns were confiscated when authorities raided Mr. Donnelly’s home after being alarmed by his posts. They found three handguns and three rifles, one of which was an AK-47 rifle with accompanying magazines. They were confiscated on the grounds of the state’s “red flag” laws that help prevent gun violence. The initiative against Mr. Donnelly was led by Kim Wyatt, a prosecutor who argued that Mr. Donnelly’s posts “implied [a] threat of mass shooting.”

The alarming posts included a range of different threats, from threatening his mother with a gun and different fantasies about violence against women. One post on Twitter said he would “shoot any woman any time for any reason.” Other gender-based violence posts included, “Prowling the Seattle streets for women to assault. No luck so far. Hopefully my urges will be satisfied soon,” and, “Kill all women.” Another post showed him holding two AK-47 rifles with the caption, “one ticket for Joker please.” This last post came in early October, shortly before the release of the new Joker movie, striking officials as alarming enough to go through with the confiscation, although Ms. Wyatt argued that all of the posts were alarming enough.

Mr. Donnelly argues that his jokes were mocking those who would make such comments, and was surprised his posts were taken so seriously by the government. He reported that he “did not necessarily regret his social media postings” and that he was in favor of some aspects of red flag laws. His lawyer said, “It is crystal clear to Mr. Donnelly that the state is looking over his shoulder, watching everything that he posts, and that if they don’t follow the joke, then they are going to come after him for a violation of his rights.”

This event has sparked a serious discussion about the limits of gun control and where it begins to infringe upon the Second Amendment, as well as the limits of free speech on common red flag laws. Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, argued that these initiatives don’t allow for due process under the law and make those accused “guilty until proven innocent.” Some are saying that this is an opportunity for judges to find the right balance between gun control and constitutionality. Ms. Wyatt asked “the court to balance the community safety needs versus the temporary deprivation of Mr. Donnelly’s rights to possess firearms.”

Sources: NY Times 11/18/19, Independent 11/19/19

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