Cities Defend State Law that Prohibits People from Carrying Guns While Drunk

An Ohio resident was arrested for cleaning a shotgun while drunk, which he argues is unconstitutional under the law as written.

An Ohio resident was arrested for cleaning a shotgun while drunk, which he argues is unconstitutional under the law as written. Shutterstock

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Six cities in Ohio filed a legal brief supporting a state law that makes it illegal for anyone to use a gun when intoxicated in response to claims that the policy is unconstitutional.

Six cities in Ohio filed a legal brief defending a state law that makes it illegal to use guns while intoxicated, in response to a constitutional challenge claiming that the restriction infringes on the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.

The cities “are on the front lines of addressing the intersection of guns and alcohol,” says the brief, filed by attorneys for the cities of Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Lima, Akron and Toledo. “Their police officers are the first to respond to domestic violence incidents, interpersonal gun violence, gun suicides and unintentional shootings, all of which are made more lethal by the combination of guns and alcohol.”

The document, filed with the state Supreme Court on Sept. 19, came two months after the high court voted 4-3 to hear an appeal from Frederick Weber, a Felicity, Ohio resident who was arrested in February 2018 after sheriff’s deputies entered his home and found him drunk and cleaning a shotgun.

Weber told the deputies that the gun was not loaded and that he’d been wiping it down, and admitted that he was drunk. One deputy “took control of the firearm, made sure that it was not loaded, never saw any ammunition was in the shotgun and agreed that it is legal to own firearms in the United States of America and Ohio,” according to court filings. 

Weber was arrested and charged with violating a 45-year-old state law that makes it illegal for anyone to “carry or use any firearm or dangerous ordinance” while under the influence of alcohol or “any drug of abuse.” Violators can be sentenced to up to six months in jail or be fined up to $1,000.

Weber was later convicted, which held up on appeal in district court.

In his current appeal, Weber’s attorneys argued that the law, as applied, is unconstitutional, because “there is no evidence that the firearm was used or being used, merely possessed.” Allowing his arrest to stand, the document continued, could leave thousands of gun owners at risk of prosecution for drinking in the same homes where they keep their collections of firearms.

“Vast numbers of gun owners and possessors consume alcohol in the residence(s) where they keep firearms,” according to a memo filed by Weber’s attorneys. “A potentially endless list of people, including and not limited to, firearm collectors, lawmen, judges, lawyers, doctors, hunters, military and paramilitary—a|l kinds and types of people consume alcohol or drugs ... and have firearms in the residence. The happenstance of having someone who is disgruntled call law enforcement on the firearm possessor may easily result in a charge under the statute.”

An attorney for Weber did not immediately return a request for comment.

In their own brief, the cities argued that the law is constitutional on the grounds that “the use and carrying of firearms by the currently intoxicated is not conduct protected” by either the Second Amendment or the Ohio Constitution. Other states, including Arizona, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and New Jersey, have passed similar laws without incident.

“The Ohio Constitution, like the United States Constitution, has always allowed for reasonable regulations to protect public safety while protecting the right to bear arms,” the document says. 

The position was an obvious stance for the city officials, who said the document was a way to defend their right to enforce the current law.

“It’s just common sense that the intoxicated should not be carrying weapons in my mind, whether in your home or not,” Dale Emch, law director for the city of Toledo, told the Toledo Blade. “That’s just a bad recipe.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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