New Jersey judge orders guns returned to blind man
Steven Hopler is legally blind. And it was alleged he is a drunk. And he accidentally shot himself. Nevertheless, a judge ruled he has a Second Amendment right to bear arms and ordered police to return the guns they had seized from him.
The order was made on Friday by Judge Thomas Manahan of the Morristown Superior Court. This was just the latest battle the 49-year-old gun collector had with the Morris County Prosecutor's office that does not want him to legally possess firearms.
The incident that led up to the order occurred in 2008. Hopler, who has diabetes and became legally blind in 1991, shot himself in the shin when a gun he was cleaning accidentally discharged. When police arrived, they seized all his weapons that were in plain sight.
If that wasn't enough, while he was in the hospital recovering, an ex-tenant entered his home, broke into his safe, and stole the rest of his gun collection. As reported by the Star-Ledger
, one of those guns was later used in a suicide.
During the just completed hearing, prosecutors did not argue Hopler should not have guns because he is blind. Been there, done that. And without success. So they argued the seized guns should not be returned and Hopler's firearm license revoked, because he was a drunk.
Hopler said at most, he had two drinks a day. But prosecutors had a witness who testified differently. According to Kenneth Struck, Hopler sometimes put away as much as 30 beers in a day. Struck just happens to be the ex-tenant who stole the guns from Hopler's safe and later pleaded guilty to burglary.
Manahan, obviously satisfied Hopler did not pose a danger because of his drinking, refused to rule in the state's favour. He held that two previous judges had allowed the blind man to have firearms and said he cannot take away Hopler's right to bear arms under the Second Amendment because of his disability. The judge was satisfied that Hopler, who had completed an NRA Home Safety Course, knew how to handle firearms.
In 1994, Hopler was refused a gun permit because he was blind. He won on appeal and the court ordered he could have a permit but could only fire a weapon in the presence of an adult who had undergone proper firearms training.
And in 2004, he was refused a permit because he had been convicted of an offense of being unruly in a bar. He successfully appealed that decision.
Hopler's attorney, Greg Trautmann, believes his client is being singled out because of his disability. The lawyer is quoted in the New York Daily News
First it was 'He can't own guns because he's blind.' Now they tried 'You're a habitual drunkard and we think it's improper because you're a habitual drunkard.'
Hopler told the CBS local affiliate
in New York City that his victory was more than about guns.
I wouldn't say power, it's freedom.
The Morris County Prosecutor's office said it has had its day in court and will not appeal. Today, Hopler is expected to make arrangements to have his guns returned.