Leonard Cottrell Jr. fought on the front lines in the Iraq War. Now, he feels he’s fighting the frontlines at home in New Jersey for the right to bear arms.
Cottrell, 40, said he was working at Wawa on June 14 when he got a call from his wife around 9:30 p.m. that two police officers from the New Jersey State Police’s Hamilton station were at the doorstep of his Millstone home.
The troopers, who patrol this sprawling Monmouth County township, were there, he said, because his 13-year-old son had made a comment at school about the Millstone Middle School’s security, and the officers wanted to confiscate Cottrell’s firearms as part of an investigation.
Cottrell, a disabled U.S. Army veteran who served three tours during “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” owns a shotgun and a pistol. He has all the correct permits to own the firearms, he said, and predominately uses the shotgun to hunt.
He said his wife allowed the officers to enter the home, and with her permission, they searched his son’s room — but they did not find any weapons, he said. The officers, he said, didn’t have a warrant but still wanted to take his guns. Cottrell wouldn’t let them.
“No one from the state was going to take my firearms without due process,” he said Thursday.
He said the attempted seizure resulted because of a new law Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law that makes it easier for police to confiscate guns when someone in the state poses a threat to themselves or others. The law is part of a broader statewide effort to make New Jersey’s gun laws even tougher amid the national outcry for more gun control in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The U.S. Secret Service said Thursday that schools around the country should establish teams to evaluate potential threats and encourage students to report troubling behavior.
“Snitching is informing on someone for personal gain,” the Secret Service said. But students should come forward “when they are worried about a friend who is struggling or when they are trying to keep someone from getting hurt.”
Cottrell said the officers “danced around the issue” when he confronted them about the new law.
A New Jersey State Police spokesman declined to answer questions about whether this incident had anything to do with the new gun laws.
In an email, Sgt. First Class Jeff Flynn said, “Troopers responded to Mr. Cottrell’s residence in reference to the report of a possible school threat. Based on their investigation, it was determined that Mr. Cottrell’s weapons did not need to be seized.”
Cottrell said he was able to work out a deal with the officers that he would remove the guns from his house and keep them outside until the investigation concluded.
His son was not allowed to return to school and was barred from attending graduation, he said.
Millstone school officials did not return a request for comment.
“He’s upset,” Cottrell said of his son. “He didn’t do anything wrong, and he doesn’t understand why it happened – he was just having a conversation with nothing as far as threats. It shouldn’t have blown up the way it did. But he understands it happened, there are consequences and there’s fallout from his actions.”
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