The Ohio Supreme Court will test the old adage that guns and alcohol don’t mix.
The justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments next week centered on a Clermont County man challenging the constitutionality of a state law prohibiting the use of firearms while under the influence of alcohol.
In a show of concern, legal officials representing some of Ohio’s largest cities including Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron, Dayton, Toledo and Lima, all urged the state’s high court to uphold the statute.
Sometime before 4 a.m. on Feb. 17, 2018, Frederick Weber’s wife summoned a sheriff’s deputy when Weber, 50, brandished a weapon.
She let the deputy in, who encountered Weber holding a shotgun by the stock, barrel pointed down. The weapon was unloaded, and Weber said he was cleaning it.
Court records state the deputy smelled booze. Weber’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy, his speech slurred, his feet unsteady. He couldn’t complete a field sobriety test because he “could not follow directions.” The deputy described him as “highly intoxicated.”
Weber was charged with using weapons while intoxicated, a first-degree misdemeanor, which prohibits anyone who has been drinking from carrying or using a firearm. He served no jail time (a 10-day sentence was suspended) and was sentenced to a year of community control.
However, Weber’s lawyers essentially mounted two defenses. For one, they say in this case the gun was unloaded and therefore not a viable firearm. For two, they allege the law itself violates the right to bear arms under the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.
Appellate Judge Michael Powell sided with the prosecution. He said, echoing the county prosecutors’ arguments, that nothing in the law requires a firearm be used to be considered a weapon.
Additionally, he said case law affirms the right of a legislature to constrict certain rights so long as they are “narrowly tailored” to serve a “significant government interest” — in this case, public safety.
“[The statute] manifests the General Assembly’s recognition that firearms in the hands of intoxicated individuals creates a circumstance where substantial harm could result to the public and seeks to prevent gun violence and preserve public safety,” Powell wrote.
He added the law doesn’t permanently infringe on anyone’s rights; it merely requires them to sober up before picking up a weapon.
The case is significant enough to have caught the attention of Ohio’s largest cities. In a amicus brief (a courtroom vehicle for interested parties to weigh in), cities representing 1.6 million Ohioans, 200,000 enrolled college students, and a bevy of sporting and entertainment venues that host plenty of drinking, asked the justices to preserve the statute.
Citing 27 other states with similar laws, which date back to 1665 in colonial Virginia, they said there’s overwhelming evidence to establish the danger of mixing guns and alcohol, which can be linked to suicide by firearm or spousal violence.
“The public is now overwhelmingly calling for new common-sense gun regulations,” lawyers for the cities wrote. “This Court should not undermine these democratic efforts by invalidating reasonable publicly enacted laws, or establishing a standard of review so high that even the most basic gun-safety measures — like prohibiting intoxicated people from carrying and using firearms — may fail.”
Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday.