When Lou Matteo got his handgun collection back, town police averted a legal battle based on a new U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding an individual's right to own a gun.
Matteo, 75, turned over his firearms in March after a verbal spat with his wife led to an order of protection against him. Guilderland police refused to give the guns back, citing a federal law barring anyone under an order of protection from possessing firearms.
But on June 26, the nation's high court struck down a District of Columbia ban on handguns. The ruling also said long-standing provisions barring handgun possession by felons did not violate the Second Amendment.
Matteo has never been convicted of a crime, and his attorney, Tom Marcelle, said the Supreme Court ruling meant he was entitled to have his guns returned.
Matteo's case is the second locally and one of many expected nationwide in the wake of last month's decision, called District of Columbia vs. Heller, challenging legislation that bans or limits handgun ownership.
"Without the D.C. case, we have no case. 'Heller' basically was an invitation for people to test Second Amendment cases," said Marcelle, who won a 2001 Supreme Court case that allowed an after-school Bible study group in Otsego County.
In one of the first challenges under the landmark ruling, a Schenectady man is seeking dismissal of charges that he lied because he failed to disclose he was the subject of a protective order when he filled out a form used for background checks on people purchasing a firearm.
In March, Matteo was accused of ripping the phone from his wife's hand when she tried to call police to report his verbal abuse, according to court records. Guilderland police issued an order of protection, and he turned over the guns, which are registered and possessed legally.
A week later, however, the case was dismissed by Town Justice John Bailey, who ordered Matteo's guns be returned.
The Matteos said they no longer even remember what prompted their quarrel. Marisol Matteo signed statements that her husband had never threatened her with a weapon and she was not concerned about him ever doing so. The domestic dispute case was over.
But the order of protection remained. Marcelle said under the "Heller" decision, Matteo, a law-abiding citizen, was allowed to have his guns.
Town Attorney Dick Sherwood denied any link between the Matteo case and the Supreme Court ruling. He said the town must follow the existing federal law: Returning the guns requires an order from federal court, not a town court.
Matteo's guns were returned after he filed his case in federal court. Sherwood said a change in the law would eliminate an illogical legal process.
"You have the power to take the guns away, you don't have the power to give them back," Sherwood said. "Our hands were tied."
For Marcelle, it is only a matter of time before a town attorney somewhere tests the legal system by refusing to return guns to a person who has not been convicted of a crime, and that case will further define rights under the Second Amendment.