Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blind NJ Man to Have His Firearms Returned

I happen to be quite familiar with this case as it occurred in my county. It had been going on for a few years prior to my recent retirement from Law Enforcement. I also know the defendant's lawyer, Robert Trautman, well and I am happy for both of them that the case turned out with a win.

"Steven Hopler, a gun collector who went blind in 1991 as the result of diabetes, is due to have his guns returned to him following a judge’s order Friday in Superior Court in Morristown, NJ.

Originally confiscated after he shot himself in the leg four years ago, allegations have also been leveled that Hopler has something of a drinking problem."

Some will hold that a blind man should not be allowed to possess firearms. While I would state that anyone who is blind or is gradually losing his ability to see clearly should do all that he can to obtain help from a trusted friend or relative when handling firearms, I believe that this case was simply an overreach of a Prosecutor's Office that, like too many Law Enforcement Agencies in New Jersey, will do anything within its power to deny an individual his right to own and posses guns. The guy made a mistake. People injure themselves every day while handling tools, climbing ladders, cutting food in the kitchen, driving vehicles, what have you. Even being responsible for a Motor Vehicle accident in which another person is injured does not automatically mean that the guilty driver will never drive again. If the Prosecutor's Office truly wanted to make sure that the guy knew how to handle his weapons prior to a return, they could have requested that the Court mandate firearms training at the Defendant's expense. That was not their intention. Instead, they tried to make the case that Mr. Hopler was a problem drinker and brought in at least one witness (Who himself does not have an exemplary record) to testify to that.

The general understanding of too many Law Enforcement Officials in New Jersey seems to be this; Well, cops should really be the only people who can have guns. Unfortunately, the laws require that we allow certain people to own them. What we should do is use every legal means possible to deprive as many people as we can of that right (They would say privilege, trying to equate it with driving a motor vehicle). While we can only take firearms from a few people at a time, it's better than nothing.

New Jersey has terribly restrictive firearms laws. Handguns require a separate purchaser's permit/registration form for each weapon and the laws make for a potential arrest situation in the case of transporting firearms anywhere but directly to and from a shooting range or club and one's home. The hollow-point ammunition statute is horribly vague. It prohibits the possession of this type of ammunition for illegal purposes. Although that sounds OK, it results in regular people being charged with this law while everyone in the local law enforcement system knows fully well that the case will ultimately be dismissed in Court. The "Assault Weapons" (NJ has its own definition of assault weapons - it includes semiautomatic firearms) Ban of 1994, made, with the stroke of a pen, possession of even old tube-fed .22LR Caliber semiautomatic weapons a crime punishable by a sentence to State prison. 

As with many laws that seek to control the people rather than protect them, criminals do not take these legal measures into account when seeking to obtain tools for their trade. Consequently, they tend to affect only those who strive to remain within the boundaries of the Law.

In the 70's situation-comedy All in the Family, there was an episode in which the main character, the archetypal White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Archie Bunker, is describing an account in which he is robbed while driving a taxi. He tells his wife that the mugger/robber produced a switchblade. While he attempts to continue with the story, his wife Edith interjects, saying "OOH, a switchblade, that's illegal". Archie classically rolls his eyes and retorts, "I got news for you Edith, almost everything a mugger does is illegal".

All in all, I am happy to report good news. It seems to come so rarely of late. The story, linked at top, is a nice read.

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