The range of legal issues that a Court may be called upon to adjudicate is beyond generic or simple description. As a recent case in which the police seized a crossbow illustrates, the answer to a superficially easy question may be far more complicated.
The Village of Depew Police Department filed this petition pursuant to what is commonly known as the “Red Flag” law, seeking an Extreme Risk Protection Order (a so-called “ERPO”) to retain certain weapons seized from the home of Jeffrey Lloyd. After responding to a 911 call from his house, the Police eventually sent Lloyd to the Erie County Medical Center for examination under the authority of the Mental Hygiene Law. He had since returned home.
While Lloyd was at the hospital, the Police removed from the home a number of weapons, including three rifles, three shotguns, five longbows (with arrows), and one crossbow. The Court granted a temporary order permitting retention of the weapons by the Police pending a full hearing on the petition.
In discussions with counsel for both parties as to the procedure to be followed and the scheduling of the hearing, it was agreed that the longbows with arrows were not firearms within the meaning of the ERPO statute and were to be returned to Lloyd. It was also agreed that the rifles and shotguns were specifically included in the statute and were a proper subject of the petition.
There remained the issue of whether Lloyd’s crossbow was a weapon included in the term “firearm” as used in the ERPO statute. Lloyd opposed the inclusion of the crossbow as a firearm subject to such seizure and moved the Court for its return to him on that basis alone. The Police contended that the crossbow was properly considered a firearm covered by the statute.
In interpreting a statute it is fundamental that a court should attempt to effectuate the intent of the Legislature. The clearest indicator of legislative intent is the statutory text. So the starting point in any case of interpretation must always be the language itself, giving effect to the plain meaning thereof. If the language is ambiguous, the Court may examine the legislative history.
In this case, the Court found that the words of the statute were not ambiguous. It was true that a crossbow could be a dangerous weapon. However, the Legislature chose to use the term “firearm” and not the word “weapon” as well as “shotguns and rifles”, as subjects of the ERPO law.
Penal Law, §265.00(3) & (15) defines a “firearm” and a “loaded firearm” and contemplated a weapon that uses ammunition with the energy of explosion.
The category of “firearms” used in the ERPO statute was intended to cover guns other than rifles or shotguns. Those would include handguns and other types of guns usually associated with the armed forces. Another State statute provides guidance, as well. The Environmental Conservation Law distinguishes a firearm from a crossbow, in setting restrictions on the discharge of such weapons.
Since the ERPO statute is one used for the confiscation of private property, its interpretation could not be expansively construed. Lloyd’s crossbow was not a “firearm” subject to seizure under the ERPO statute. Lloyd’s motion that the ERPO statute did not apply to the crossbow was granted and the crossbow was ordered returned to him.