Action News Jax Investigates: New Florida law can strip gun rights from certain people

Action News Jax is investigating a new Florida law, that can strip away gun rights for certain people.

Starting in April, law enforcement agencies around the state have been requesting risk protection orders, or "RPO" against those they believe pose a significant danger to themselves or others.

STAY UPDATED: Download our free Action News Jax news app for more investigative stories

If a judge signs off on the order, the person in question is stripped of their guns and the ability to own or purchase any firearms, often for at least a year.

According to FDLE, there are 715 temporary and permanent RPOs currently in effect around the state.

Ben Amwake raises his children in a quiet Columbia County neighborhood, but he can still remember the afternoon in May when gunshots rang out at a home down the street.

"I just heard pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow," Amwake said. "Like a bunch of them off in a row.”

More local investigative stories: Scammers use accurate passwords in email scam to threaten Jacksonville residents for moneyBroken surveillance cameras in local schools

Thomas DeFoor, 58, confronted his wife and her boyfriend.

Pictured: Thomas DeFoor

A police report stated he fired multiple rounds in their direction with .223 assault rifle.

They were lucky and survived the ordeal, but six months later, there are still bullet holes in the side of the house.

“They had busted out windows that had gunshots through them, there was drywall with bullet holes in it," Amwake said.

Deputies quickly filed for a risk protection order, which was approved by a judge.

Authorities seized nearly a dozen firearms from DeFoor’s home, including ammo and magazines.

As part of the terms of the order, DeFoor couldn’t own or purchase a gun for a year.

Law enforcement agencies all over the state have been petitioning for RPOs since April.

Judges have been signing off on most of them.

As of August, there were more than 100 RPOs in effect in Broward County.

Here in Jacksonville, law enforcement has only petitioned for three. That number is zero in Clay, St. Johns and Nassau counties. DeFoor is one of five cases in Columbia County.

STORY: Jacksonville men pistol-whipped, robbed on same day in possibly connect cases

JSO tells us it has a Risk Protection Unit of five members, including a sergeant.

If you see something you'd like us to investigate, click here to submit a tip.

Attorney Eric Friday tells Action News Jax the law is not only redundant, it allows law enforcement and the courts to strip gun rights away in an arbitrary way.

“They’re letting a judge make a mental health determination with no expert testimony whatsoever," said Friday.

One gray-area case law opponents point toward is that of 21-year old UCF student Christian Velasquez.

School police filed for an RPO after Velasquez reportedly praised mass shooters online, including Parkland school shooter Nicolas Cruz.

The judge did not sign off on the order, but law opponents say these types of examples infringe on free speech rights.

“We have departments that have used things people have posted on social media that constitute free speech to take away people’s gun rights," said Friday. "We’ve even had departments take away other people in the home’s guns because of what another resident did.”

But Amwake tells us for the safety of his and other families, the law is one more layer of protection.

“I think that should be a permanent thing man, this isn’t just a slap on the wrist," he said. "You shot a weapon at living people.”

Comments on this article