Blind Rockaway Township gun collector will have weapons returned to him
(NJ.COM) A blind gun collector can keep his gun permit and will have the weapons previously seized from his house by police returned to him, following a judge’s order handed down Friday in Superior Court in Morristown.
Steven Hopler, 49, of Rockaway Township won the latest battle in an ongoing war over his Second Amendment rights. The Morris County Prosecutor’s office had asked Judge Thomas Manahan to revoke Hopler’s firearms ID card and seize all guns in his possession, arguing Hopler abused alcohol and posed a danger to others by being a gun owner.
Hopler’s attorney, Gregg Trautmann, said, “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 testified last month he drinks no more than two beers a day, countering the testimony of his ex-tenant, Kenneth Struck, an admitted burglar, who claimed Hopler would sometimes drink a 30-pack in one night.
The most recent legal scuffle began in 2008 when Hopler, who became legally blind as a result of diabetes in 1991, shot himself in the shin while cleaning one of his guns.
Police responded to his home and seized numerous guns in plain view, leaving behind those guns stored in Hopler’s safe.
While Hopler was in the hospital, the ex-tenant, Struck, broke into Hopler’s apartment with some accomplices and stole 12 handguns and two shotguns out of the safe.
Struck subsequently pleaded guilty to burglary. One of the guns was sold on the street and wound up being used in a suicide in Paterson, according to testimony.
In his written decision handed down Friday Manahan said he believed Hopler, who completed an NRA Home Safety Course, is well-versed in how to handle a firearm. He also noted two Superior Court judges previously permitted him to purchase firearms.
In 2004 Hopler successfully challenged the Rockaway Township police chief’s refusal to give him a gun permit because of a municipal court conviction for being unruly in a bar.
And in 1994 when the township police revoked a gun permit after learning he was blind, Hopler appealed and was allowed to keep his permit on the condition he fire weapons only in the presence of an adult trained in the use of firearms. This condition still stands.
“He’s always enjoyed collecting. When he lost his sight it was just a continuation of what he’d done his whole life,” Trautmann said of Hopler. “It’s a hobby and you know what? It’s his right.”