Mo. Supreme Court upholds ban on gun possession by intoxicated people

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a state law barring intoxicated people from having guns.

The ruling clears the way for the prosecution of a Southeast Missouri man found unconscious with a loaded gun in 2006. John L. Richard, of Benton, was found passed out in a chair in his home after he threatened to kill himself -- or make police do it -- after his wife told him she was leaving, according to briefs filed with the Supreme Court. Richard took an unknown amount of morphine and an antidepressant after arguing with his wife, the briefs said.

He was charged with a felony for possessing a loaded gun while intoxicated, but a Mississippi County judge declared the law unconstitutional and dismissed the case before trial in 2008. The state Supreme Court overruled that decision 7-0, saying Missouri has the authority to regulate how residents handle guns.

"Possession of a loaded firearm by an intoxicated individual poses a demonstrated threat to public safety," Judge Richard Teitelman wrote in the majority opinion. He noted several cases in which an intoxicated person was reported to have shot someone.

The law makes it illegal to possess or discharge a gun while intoxicated. There are exceptions for transporting unloaded guns or when a firearm is needed for self-defense. Violations are a misdemeanor, but because Richard's gun was loaded, the charge was elevated to a felony punishable with up to four years in prison.

Public defender Craig Johnston, who represented Richard, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday. In September, Johnston argued before the Supreme Court that the ban was too broad and threatened to criminalize legal behavior.

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