NJ cops came to confiscate guns after son discussed school safety, dad says
MILLSTONE TOWNSHIP — An Army veteran father says State Police tried to confiscate his firearms without a court order or warrant just because his son was overheard discussing school shooting news with a classmate.
Police said their visit was sparked by a conversation that Leonard Cottrell Jr.'s 13-year-old son had had with another student at school. Cottrell said he was told his son and the other student were discussing how security being lax at Millstone Middle School.
The conversation was overheard by another student, who went home and told his parents. Those parents then contacted the school, which contacted the State Police, according to Cottrell.
The visit from the troopers came around 10 p.m. on June 14, Cottrell said, a day after Gov. Phil Murphy signed several gun enforcement bills into law.
Among the six new gun control laws are the reduction of magazine sizes as well as "red flag" provisions that allow firearms to be taken away from people deemed to be dangerous.
After several hours, Cottrell said police agreed not to take the guns but to allow him to move them to another location while the investigation continued.
"They had admitted several times that my son made no threat to himself or other students or the school or anything like that," he said.
Cottrell said he made it very clear to the police that he was "not going to willingly give up my constitutional rights where there's no justifiable cause, no warrants, no nothing."
The troopers searched his son's room and found nothing, Cottrell said.
"To appease everybody, I had my firearms stored someplace else," he said. "That way, during the course of the investigation, my son doesn't have access to them and it's on neutral ground and everything and everybody's happy."
Major Brian Polite, a spokesperson for the New Jersey State Police, told New Jersey 101.5 that the troopers conducted an investigation and determined there was no need for the weapons to be seized. He also said he could not comment on whether the incident was related to the new gun laws.
Alexander Roubian, of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, said there have been "many times where people are just falsely accused of a crime just by sheer accusation and their firearms are taken away."
Roubian weapons are sometimes taken from people who may be the victims of crimes.
"People should understand what their constitutional rights are," Roubian said. "They should have the right to exercise them and we should also be filing civil lawsuits against any government agency that tramples on, doesn't respect and violates our constitutional rights."
Roubian also said the fact that Cottrell had to move his firearms at all was indicative of a larger problem in the state.
"The fact that they were intimidating and bullying him into moving his firearms from his home, just because of this paranoia and hysteria that's going on in society today, just goes to show how unreasonable the opposition is when it comes to our firearms and our constitutional rights," he said. "The fact that they're bullying him and forcing him to remove his firearms from his home, where in this instance there was no probably cause or reason to do so, goes to show what the true agenda of the left and the anti-gun bigots are."
The incident also resulted in Cotrell's son being kept out of school for the rest of the year and having to miss his eight-grade graduation.
Cottrell said if the school had contacted him and talked about what had happened instead of going to the police first, "it would have been worked out right then and there." He said he also would have understood if he'd gotten a call from the State Police to learn more, instead of the late night visit to his home.
"I'm not hiding anything. I'm above board on everything but there are certain things that you just can't do."
A call seeking comment from the schools superintendent was not returned as of Tuesday night.