Monday, July 24, 2000

Gun law challengers 'a little different'

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If not for the guns in their coat pockets and gym bags, they would have almost nothing in common.

        A deliveryman who sells pizza all night and a personal trainer who is up at dawn. A private investigator who writes for Guns & Ammo magazine and a hairdresser who offers free cuts to the homeless.

• The temporary restraining order bars enforcement of Ohio's concealed weapons law until Judge Ruehlman hears more arguments on Aug. 11 on the lawsuit filed to overturn the law.

• City and county attorneys could ask the federal courts to intervene, perhaps as early as this week.

        They are conservative and liberal. Young and old. Successful and struggling.

        Together, they may change Ohio's gun laws forever.

        “They are a little different,” says Tim Smith, their attorney. “But so is this case.”

        The story of how these four disparate people joined forces is almost as remarkable as their stunning court victory last week over the state's concealed weapons law.

        Because of them, a judge declared the law — which essentially makes getting arrested the only way to determine if you have a legitimate reason to carry a gun — invalid in Hamilton County for at least the next three weeks.

        Although their appearance Tuesday in Common Pleas Court was a formal, suit-and-tie affair, the genesis of their lawsuit was anything but.

        They met through mutual friends or blind luck, and they honed their legal arguments at shooting ranges and poker games.

        Along the way, they found their common ground: “This law is not right,” says Lea Anne Driscoll, the personal trainer. “I was ready and willing to do whatever was necessary to make it right.”

        Their journey to court be gan last year when the private investigator, Chuck Klein, decided to take on the concealed weapons statute.

        The 58-year-old Mount Auburn man didn't like the law because it made it impossible to carry a concealed gun without risking arrest.

        “The law is against the constitution,” Mr. Klein says.

        So he began circulating fliers at gun clubs, taping them to walls and handing them out himself. He was looking for someone who had been caught breaking the law, someone who would be his “test case.”

        He found the perfect volunteer in Pat Feely, a 29-year-old Norwood man who'd been arrested while delivering pizza. At the time of his arrest, he had a pistol in his belt and a T-shirt honoring the inventor of the Colt revolver: “GOD CREATED MEN, AND SAM COLT MADE THEM EQUAL.”

        Mr. Feely said the law was unfair because it prevented him from protecting himself on dangerous, late-night deliveries. His trial ended with an acquittal.

        But Mr. Klein's crusade was just getting started.

        His goal was to use the Feely case as a springboard for an even bigger case. He wanted to wipe out the concealed weapons law.

        All he needed was a few like-minded people to join him in a lawsuit challenging the statute. His idea was rejected by a half-dozen lawyers before he turned to Mr. Smith, who had represented Mr. Feely.

        “I was told he was the kind of guy who goes tilting at windmills,” Mr. Klein recalls. “Just like me.”

        He liked that Mr. Smith had a reputation for stirring the pot. Months earlier, the lawyer had helped erect a display at the courthouse that described domestic violence as “a hoax.”

        “I'm known for being a little different,” Mr. Smith says. “But even for me, this case was kind of unusual.

        “They had an agenda.”

        Mr. Smith knew his hopes of winning hinged on finding a diverse group of gun-carrying citizens who had no criminal past.

        Mr. Klein was an obvious choice. He'd carried a gun for years as a private investigator and had never shot at anyone.

        But the lawyer knew he'd need more names on his lawsuit. Mr. Feely, the pizza delivery man, was out because he'd recently taken a factory job and no longer needed to carry a gun.

        That's when Mr. Klein suggested Mr. Feely's old boss, James Cohen. He'd been friends with him for years and knew that Mr. Cohen's business, Capri Pizza, had been robbed at gunpoint.

        If anyone had reason to carry, Mr. Klein figured, it was Mr. Cohen.

        “I was the one the guy pointed the gun at,” says Mr. Cohen, a 58-year-old grandfather from Maineville.

        After the robbery, Mr. Cohen began carrying a 5-shot pistol on his late deliveries.

        With Mr. Cohen and Mr. Klein on board, the lawsuit was looking better. But Mr. Smith still needed more volunteers.

        He mentioned his dilemma one night at his monthly poker game. A long-time friend, Vernon Ferrier, was interested.

        Mr. Ferrier, a Hyde Park hairdresser, routinely carries a gun when leaving his shop at night or when working downtown with the homeless at the “Haircuts for the Heart” program.

        Mr. Smith met Mr. Ferrier in college and knew he was a liberal, the kind of guy who would argue politics at shooting ranges with members of the National Rifle Association.

        “I'm probably the only lifetime member of the NRA who is also a liberal,” Mr. Ferrier says.

        Mr. Smith didn't think his friend would be interested in join ing the lawsuit, but he asked anyway.

        “Absolutely,” Mr. Ferrier said. “I'd love to do it.”

        A week later, Mr. Smith mentioned the case to Ms. Driscoll, who lives in Anderson Township, while the 40-year-old personal trainer was putting the lawyer through his paces at the YMCA.

        He knew she carried a gun when she jogged in the early morning and when she left the gym late at night. Her car was vandalized twice in the past year, and she feared for her safety.

        “I take this seriously,” she says now. “I want to ensure I have some protection for myself.”

        But Mr. Smith knew there was a potential personal problem: In her high school days, Ms. Driscoll had been a baby-sitter for the children of Sheriff Simon L. Leis. And Mr. Leis, along with the Cincinnati police, would be named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

        “I have great respect for Si. I have no issues with him,” Ms. Driscoll says. “But my poor dad almost fell off his chair when I told him about this.

        “He said, "You can't sue Uncle Si!'”

        When she agreed to do it anyway, Mr. Smith had his plaintiffs. The only question remaining involved money. Namely, who was going to pay for the court fight?

        Mr. Klein told his lawyer about the Second Amendment Foundation in Bellevue, Wash. The nonprofit group had bankrolled other legal battles over guns and Mr. Klein thought they might pay for this one, too.

        He was right. Mr. Klein says the group has paid about $2,000 so far and is prepared to pay much more.

        “The only reason this law hasn't been challenged before is that nobody had the money to challenge it,” says Alan Gottlieb, president of the foundation. “That's what we're here for.”

        With that, Mr. Smith and his four gun owners were ready for court.

        Despite their many differences, they formed a united front last week at the courthouse. They sat together in the courtroom and, later, stood together praising Judge Robert Ruehlman's decision.

        And then they went their separate ways.

        “I'm glad we did it,” Mr. Ferrier says.


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