Grandpa sues over rules for guns in foster homes

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal lawsuit claims the state is violating the rights of Michigan foster parents by imposing too many restrictions on firearms in the home.

A Belding man who moved to the Upper Peninsula several years ago says the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services won’t allow him and his wife to foster their grandson if he keeps a loaded gun in the home.

“I’m very upset when someone tells me, ‘Well, you no longer have the right to defend yourself or your family.’ My family comes first,” William Johnson, who is also a veteran, told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone Wednesday. “There’s a lot of us that put on that uniform to make sure that Constitution stays intact and then we got a rogue operation out of the state of Michigan that says, ‘Oh no, your constitutional rights don’t matter.'”

Johnson said the situation started when he was contacted by MDHHS about fostering his 5-year-old grandson in their Ontonagon home.

He alleges in the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids, that a caseworker asked for all of the serial numbers on his registered firearms after beginning the process of fostering his grandson. When Johnson asked why, he was allegedly told, “If you want to care for your grandson, you will have to give up some of your constitutional rights.”

The lawsuit also claims a Gogebic County Court judge told the Johnsons that if they wanted their grandson placed in their care, they “know (they) are violating numerous constitutional rights here, but if (the Johnsons) do not comply, (the state) will remove the boy from (the Johnsons’)] home.”

>>PDF: Read the lawsuit

Another plaintiff in the suit, the Second Amendment Foundation, got involved after reviewing the MDHHS’s current licensing rules.

“There’s no reason a person like this should be disqualified from being a foster parent just because he wants a functional firearm in his home for self-protection,” Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb told 24 Hour News 8 by phone. “You shouldn’t have to give up your constitutional rights to be a foster parent.”

The public information officer for MDHHS told 24 Hour News 8 the agency can’t discuss ongoing litigation.

The hazardous materials policy in the DHHS handbook of Licensing Rules for Foster Family Homes and Foster Family Group Homes for Children reads as follows:

Firearms are subject to the following conditions:

  • Stored in a locked metal or solid wood gun safe or
  • Trigger-locked and stored without ammunition in a locked area.
  • Ammunition shall be stored in a separate locked location.
  • A handgun shall be registered. Documentation of the registration of the handgun shall be available for review.

>>PDF: Handbook of Licensing Rules for Foster Family Homes

“My guns have to be locked in a safe in one room and my ammo in another room. If somebody broke into my house, I’d have to go to two different rooms to load up the weapon,” Johnson argued.

Johnson told 24 Hour News 8 the boy was given back to his mother, their daughter, after they filed the lawsuit. He is now working to become a licensed foster parent separately from this case and hopes he can care for his grandson and any other child who deserves a safe home.

The suit also names another Ontonagon couple that it claims feels their rights are violated.