EBENSBURG – Concerns posted on Facebook and through emails, including many to The Tribune-Democrat, change nothing, Cambria County Sheriff Bob Kolar said Tuesday regarding circumstances in the recent confiscation of more than 300 guns from a county residence.
“I had a court order and I was complying with that order,” Kolar said of the confiscation of 306 rifles and shotguns from the home of a man who allegedly threatened an estranged woman with whom he had a relationship.
As for the $1,200 the man must pay to cover what Kolar described as only a portion of the cost associated with the confiscation, the price tag is higher than average, but is not unusual, the sheriff said.
But a Berks County attorney versed in Second Amendment rights said that while the sheriff may have the power to assess fees for his department’s costs related to protection from abuse, the law is designed to protect gun owners against confiscation.
“The individual with no ability to pay (the assessment) is being deprived of his right to keep and bear arms,” said attorney Joshua Prince of the Firearms Industry Consulting Group.
Prince was one of a number of individuals who contacted The Tribune-Democrat following Thursday’s article about the man whose weapons were confiscated following a judge’s order and the issuance of a temporary PFA order.
At a hearing last month, a county judge denied a request from the woman for a more permanent PFA and vacated the temporary order that prompted the gun confiscation.
At the request of authorities, the middle-aged man is not being identified because of concern he could become a target for thieves.
He was described as a collector, and on the night of the confiscation helped the sheriff’s department to document each of the guns before they were loaded into a rented trailer for transport to the courthouse.
Kolar said he had to undertake the confiscation after the man arrived home from work, forcing the half-dozen or so deputies to incur overtime. He also assessed a charge for mileage to the residence and included the rental cost of the trailer.
“It’s standard. This time it’s high because of the number of guns,” he said Tuesday.
The sheriff said he made every effort to keep the cost to a minimum, including steps for rapid return of the trailer and no charge for the time put in by four county employees to unload the guns at the courthouse the next day.
He also did not charge for the full day it took one of his deputies to check out each of the guns on the National Crime Information Center. Reports were that some of the guns were stolen, something that did not prove true, Kolar said.
His department still must run a background check on the man with Pennsylvania State Police, and if no problems surface, he will be contacted about picking up his guns, which are under lock and key at the courthouse.
After that clearance is received and the man pays the $1,200 in assessed sheriff’s fees, he has 48 hours to recover his property.
In citing a Pennsylvania statute, Prince said: “The defendant shall not be required to pay any fees, costs or charges associated with the return, whether those fees, costs or charges are imposed by the Pennsylvania State Police, any local law enforcement agency or any other entity,” to secure return of the relinquished firearms, other weapons or ammunition.
Kolar said he is not charging the man for the return of the guns, but it is up to the owner to provide transportation and manpower to pick them up.
Prince said the statute refers to confiscation and return, not just return.
“It’s inherent. They cannot charge any fee regarding costs associated with a PFA and firearms,” he said.
Information provided by Kolar shows that charges related to PFA services and costs incurred by the sheriff’s office are standard. There was no indication how many of the cases included firearms confiscation.
Starting in 2004, sheriff’s costs have been assessed on 1,743 PFAs issued in Cambria County with the defendants assessed at $112,649, the plaintiffs assessed at $9,774, and the county costs coming in at $39,466.
How the costs are assessed is determined by a judge, said a representative from the prothonotary’s office. The order in this case put none of the costs on the woman, clearly spelling out that the defendant pay the freight of confiscation.
Kolar, a retired member of the state police, said this case in no way reflects his position on guns.
“I’ve been a member of the NRA for years. I have guns, and I’m a strong supporter of the Second Ammendment,” he said.
“I also have a job to do. If I don’t do my job, even if it is not popular, then why am I here?”