COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Having a few too many at home shouldn't make handling one's own firearm illegal, according to an Ohio man challenging his arrest on a charge of possessing a weapon while intoxicated.
The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments in his case Tuesday, with a decision not expected for several weeks.
Attorneys for defendant Fred Weber say the 2018 arrest was unconstitutional because he was in his own home and the weapon was unloaded. Weber was arrested in southwestern Ohio by sheriff's deputies after Weber's wife placed a 4 a.m. 911 call saying her husband had a gun and was drunk.
Inside Weber's house, deputies saw Weber holding an unloaded shotgun in his hand with the barrel pointed down, according to court records. Weber told officers he was drunk, and officers described him as “highly intoxicated," the records show.
Weber's attorneys argue that Weber never should have been charged or convicted under current law, since there was no evidence the shotgun was being carried with an intent to use it.
Furthermore, the law itself is flawed because it means nearly anyone with a gun at home who also consumes alcohol is breaking the law, Weber's attorneys argued in a filing with the Ohio Supreme Court last year.
“Whether one is drunk or sober should have nothing to do with the right to possess a firearm in the hearth and home,” said attorney Gary Rosenhoffer in an Aug. 20, 2019, filing. As a result, the law is a violation of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, Rosenhoffer argued.
Prosecutors disagree with Weber's argument and say the law was constitutional as applied to his situation.
By handling his weapon while he was drunk, Weber scared his wife enough that she felt compelled to call police, Nick Horton, a Clermont County assistant prosecutor, said in a Sept. 18 filing.
Weber, “by holding his firearm while intoxicated, was not exercising his right to bear arms in a virtuous manner,” the prosecutor said.
The fact the gun wasn't loaded doesn't change anything about the threat to safety posed by Weber, the prosecutor's filing said.
Some justices, including Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, seemed skeptical Tuesday of arguments put forth by Weber's attorneys.
“You would have us give, in essence, permission for someone who's intoxicated to have their AR-15, whatever it is, in their hands, in their home, while intoxicated, and have their grandchildren around?” O'Connor asked attorney Stephen Palmer, representing Weber.
Palmer acknowledged such a scenario would be “far from prudent behavior." But he said a ruling against his client would send a message that law-abiding citizens must choose between drinking at home and having guns, “while the criminals will not.”
The city of Columbus and two gun control groups, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, asked the Supreme Court to reject Weber's argument.
Current law “does not threaten law-abiding individuals’ ability to use firearms responsibly in self-defense; it merely ensures that people who are intoxicated forgo using firearms until they become sober,” Yvette McGee Brown, an attorney representing the gun control groups, said in a Sept. 19 court filing.
McGee Brown is a former Ohio Supreme Court justice who served in 2011 and 2012.