Watch what you say about local officialdom in Tisbury, Mass., or you may find Police Chief Mark Saloio knocking at your door to revoke your Second Amendment rights.
That’s the harsh lesson 84-year-old Stephen Nichols learned last month when he was overheard criticizing one of Saloio’s employees for leaving his post as a school resource officer to drink coffee at a local convenience store during work hours. Nichols would later explain he couldn’t imagine someone whose job it was to guard kids leaving them defenseless.
Nichols knows a thing or two about fidelity to duty. According to an article in MV Times, he served in the U.S. Army as a Morse Code Specialist during the Korean War era and as a police officer in Tisbury for decades. After his wife died a couple of years ago, Nichols took a job in Tisbury as a crossing guard to stay involved in the community and because, he said, “I love the kids.”
Ironically, it was Nichols’s concern for those kids that caused him to run afoul of Chief Saloio.
As Nichols explained to MV Times, a school resource officer believed to be responsible for the children’s safety would go “to Xtra Mart to get coffee when children came to school in the morning.” He mentioned this to a friend while conversing at a restaurant on Sept. 18. Nichols expressed his concern about this to a friend, worrying that somebody could “shoot up the school” while the officer was away from “his post.”
A waitress at the restaurant overheard the conversation and reported Nichols to the police two days later as potentially threatening the school. “[O]n the strength of that,” according to the MV Times, “Saloio and another officer relieved Nichols of his crossing guard duties while he was in the midst of performing them and subsequently drove to his home and took away his firearms license and guns.”
Nichols indicated the firearm and license seizures occurred without due process or the opportunity to contest the process. There was no paperwork involved in either case, Nichols told MV Times. “No he just told me to hand [the firearm license] over so I took it out of my wallet and handed it to him.” Nichols likewise reported there was no paperwork presented to justify the firearm seizures and no receipts provided for the property that was taken.
Nichols emphatically denied that he meant any threat to children at the school or that he would ever hurt a child. As he explained to MV Times:
When I was in the U.S. Army, and it wasn’t just me, it’s anybody who’s in the U.S. service, if you are on guard duty for eight hours, you didn’t leave that position. … And I’m just so accustomed to that, that when I see someone who’s supposed to be protecting kids … leave the school unguarded — if you’re on guard duty, you stay there.
The friend with whom Nichols shared his concerns, and the owner of the restaurant, both defended Nichols.
The restaurant owner told the MV Times he has known Nichols for decades and called the situation absolutely outrageous.” He acknowledged that one of his restaurant employees “overreacted” to what was said.
Nichols’s friend characterized the city’s reaction as “absurd.” “He loves kids,” the man said. “It’s almost like of all the people …” He added that no one else at the restaurant where Nichols is a regular customer believes him to be a threat.
MV Times said its reporting of the incident “generated social media activity never before seen on the Martha’s Vineyard Times webpages, including links on gun activist and law enforcement pages, and tens of thousands of Facebook hits.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, Nichols has now been reinstated to his crossing guard duties. He said Chief Saloio met with him on Columbus Day, and, without explanation, offered him his job back. Nichols accepted.
The fate of Nichols’s guns and firearm license, however, remain unclear. An attorney who represents Nichols told MV Times confirmed his intent to file an appeal to secure the return of what Chief Saloio seized. Meanwhile, Nichols was informed that his grandson, who manages a Worcester gun shop, is “going to be allowed to come down and take the weapons and sell them for me.” As it stands, Nichols has yet to receive his license or firearms back.
Nothing in the MV Times reporting indicates that Nichols was ever found to be a legitimate threat; Nichols is said to have held a Massachusetts firearm license without incident since 1958, and nothing was ever adjudicated against Nichols by a court of law prior to the seizures of his property. Because there was no proven justification for depriving Nichols of his legally owned firearms, commentators are citing the situation as a cautionary tale against “red flag” firearm seizure laws.
Incredibly, the situation may be more insidious than the commentators suspect.
Even the worst “red flag” laws contemplate the involvement of a disinterested judge or magistrate; someone who would hear some evidence, even at the lowest evidentiary standard, before issuing a confiscation order. But because lawful firearm possession in Massachusetts requires a license, some officials – like Chief Saloio – are growing comfortable with treating your fundamental Second Amendment rights as a privilege to be revoked at their discretion.
This is patently unconstitutional.
Rest assured: The NRA will continue to monitor developments in this case.
Photo Courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Times/Rich Saltzberg