POMPANO BEACH, Fla. —The American Civil Liberties Union is petitioning a court to help an 85-year-old man get his guns back from Florida's Broward Sheriff's Office.
In what may be the first time, the ACLU says, it is advocating on behalf of a gun owner to get his weapons back. And they're doing so free of charge.
That the ACLU, a longtime target of conservatives' scorn, is supporting gun ownership is "a breath of fresh air," said Marion P. Hammer, board member of the National Rifle Association.
"It's all very interesting that the ACLU has now decided that all of the rights are worth defending, and it's a welcome change," said Hammer, a Florida lobbyist for the NRA and its former president.
Is this new alliance a sign of the apocalypse?
Not really, says Fort Lauderdale attorney Barry Butin, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Florida's Broward Chapter who is representing the gun owner, Pompano Beach retiree Robert Weinstein.
Two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have affirmed the right to maintain guns in the home.
"Under the Second Amendment, he has a right to have his guns in his house. He's not a convicted felon," Butin said. "It is unusual for the ACLU. But the ACLU supports all constitutional rights. We don't pick and choose."
Brandon Hensler, the ACLU of Florida's communications director in Miami, said: "This is the first time I know of in the ACLU's 90-year history that we have advocated on behalf of a citizen to have their weapons returned from law enforcement."
Weinstein, a retired bar and restaurant owner from Hartford, Conn., had his weapons seized in February after Dana, his wife of 61 years, died. He told the Broward Medical Examiner's Office he wanted to "blow his head off," according to a sheriff deputy's report.
He said he was upset because three weeks after Mrs. Weinstein died, her ashes still hadn't shown up at the funeral home that was to bury them.
Weinstein's call to the medical examiner prompted a visit from a sheriff's deputy, who took the widower to a hospital for evaluation.
Weinstein said he agreed to surrender his Colt semi-automatic .25-caliber pistol and his Wesson .357 revolver, along with ammunition and holsters, for safekeeping after authorities insisted on it.
A hearing on his petition is scheduled before Circuit Court Judge Dale Ross on Monday.
Mila Schwartzreich, assistant legal counsel for the Sheriff's Office, said her agency has no choice but to keep Weinstein's weapons. She said the Sheriff's Office is not objecting to returning the guns, but needs a court order first.
"Legally, we're bound to hold them until then," she said. "It's not that Mr. Weinstein is a bad person or we feel people shouldn't possess firearms. For him, it was a distressing time."
Dana Weinstein was 81 years old when she died in January of complications from Alzheimer's disease and a stroke, her husband said.
"When you have a good woman, you can't beat it," Weinstein said. "I miss her terrible."
She was a homemaker who was also survived by two children, one grandchild and two great-grandchildren. The couple moved to Florida in 1972.
The Sheriff's Office helped locate her ashes from a cremation company, which told authorities they did not receive proper documentation, according to a police report. Her remains were interred two days later.
Robert Weinstein insists authorities took his comment about killing himself out of context. And although Florida's Baker Act allows people with mental illnesses to be involuntarily admitted to a hospital, that did not happen to him.
Butin said he has a doctor's letter certifying Weinstein is not a threat to himself. His client also has a clean Florida criminal record.
Weinstein, who said he learned to shoot in the military, said his guns were only kept for protection.
"They'd been in the drawer over 20 years. They were loaded," he said. "God forbid somebody came into the house to harm us."
Weinstein said he doesn't belong to the NRA and that he turned to the ACLU when someone told him his civil rights had been violated.
He is looking ahead to life after the court hearing.
"When I get these guns back, I'm going to turn these old ones in and get a new one," he said.