Red flag laws: Mistaken identity leads to revocation of veteran's firearms license

In South Florida, law enforcement took more than two dozen calls warning about the Parkland shooter in the months, weeks, and days before he opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  

The massacre helped drive reforms in state government, including red flag laws intended to remove guns from dangerous people deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. 

Other states have passed similar laws, while the U.S. Congress considers red flag legislation on a federal level. 

"Without red flag laws you cannot remove guns from someone unless you adjudicate them incompetent or until they commit a crime and can’t pass a background check and red flag laws help us get ahead of it,” said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. "You have to go to court. This is not just willy-nilly. A lot of people are concerned about that. There is due process. There is strong due process.”

But critics say there can be unintended consequences and terrible mix-ups. Jon Carpenter said he ought to know. 

Jon is a veteran, sports fisherman, and law-abiding gun owner from St. Cloud, who just happens to have the same name as a drifter who threatened an elderly couple.

"He’s 110 pounds. I’m 200. He has brown eyes. I have hazel. He has black hair. I have no hair,” Jon said, comparing himself to the other Jon Carpenter, who became the target of a risk protection order to remove any weapons he may possess.

But the veteran, fisherman, 200-pound Jon Carpenter was sent a certified letter from the state, suspending his firearms license. 

“I was just dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to do. I called the state and they basically said, 'There's an injunction against you,'” Carpenter explained.

He also received a notice that he had been reported to DCF for elder abuse and a state order to surrender any firearms. 

"The state basically said, If it’s not you, go to the courthouse. They’ll give you a letter and they’ll get you reinstated,” said Carpenter. 

But that's not how it played out. 

"Then, he finally comes out, and he's like you basically have to go to court on the 27th, in two weeks. So I said, 'I'm guilty until I prove myself innocent? That’s why I'm here, trying to show its not me.' And he’s like, 'Since you‘re here, you’ve been served. Here’s your restraining order,'” Carpenter recalled.  

He finally connected with someone in the sheriff’s office, who helped him get the injunction dismissed and called the state to get his firearms license reinstated. 

"They said they process it in the order it was received and it takes 6-8 weeks. I was like, 'So you can suspend it in one day, instantly, but for somebody else’s mistake, I’ve got to wait 6-8 weeks?'”

Carpenter persisted and got it straightened out sooner than that, but he says his experience of mistaken identity is a red flag, in itself, for politicians who promote the red flags laws and trust the bureaucrats to get it right.