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Ban on Gun Ownership for Any Past Mental Illness Held Unconstitutional

Ban on Gun Ownership for Any Past Mental Illness Held Unconstitutional

One mental illness bar to gun ownership unconstitutional.

In the first ruling of its kind since 2008’s DC v. Heller, a three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the federal ban on gun ownership for anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution” violates the Second Amendment.

Michigan resident Clifford Tyler sued in federal court after the 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) provision regarding firearm ownership by those adjudicated mentally ill prevented him from buying a gun.

Bloomberg has the background on the case:

Tyler, 73, was committed to a Michigan mental institution in 1985 after suffering a breakdown tied to a contentious divorce, according to court filings. After a month he was released and went back to work and had no other instances of being committed, the filings show.

When Tyler sought to get a gun permit in 2011, he was denied it on the basis that federal law excludes those with past history of mental illness from owning a weapon unless they fall into the statute’s exceptions.

Other classes of people, including undocumented workers, convicted felons and drug offenders, are also barred from legally owning a weapon under the law, but they are supposed to have an opportunity to show they fall into exceptions to the statute.

Until 1992, Congress provided funding for gun application review, which gave applicants with a history of mental illness the opportunity to prove that they were statutorily fit to own a firearm. When that funding dried up, many states, including Michigan, discontinued the program, leaving people like Tyler in a no-win situation.

According to the relevant statute, an applicant can’t pass review unless “a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority” has subsequently determined the applicant “to have been restored to mental competency, to be no longer suffering from a mental disorder, and to have had all rights restored.” Because the “relief from disabilities” program was discontinued, Tyler had no legal avenue to prove that he was no longer suffering from his mental disorder.

The court had no difficulty concluding that the government has a compelling interest in preventing the mentally ill from possessing firearms. The problem is that, because Congress replaced funding for disability review with an optional grant program, the statute was no longer sufficiently narrowly tailored to preserve the government’s interest while protecting Second Amendment rights:

Under this scheme, whether Tyler may exercise his right to bear arms depends on whether his state of residence has chosen to accept the carrot of federal grant money and has implemented a relief program. His right thus would turn on whether his state has taken Congress’s inducement to cooperate with federal authorities in order to avoid losing anti-crime funding. An individual’s ability to exercise a “fundamental righ[t] necessary to our system of ordered liberty,” McDonald, 561 U.S. at 778, cannot turn on such a distinction. Thus, § 922(g)(4) lacks narrow tailoring as the law is applied to Tyler. The following review of the circuits’ post-Heller jurisprudence confirms this. We hold that the complaint, as alleged, states a violation of the Second Amendment.

Throughout the opinion, the court focuses on the permanent nature of the ban that the statute imposes, which gives advocates and attorneys hope that this decision will serve as a new benchmark in the post-Heller landscape.

Section 922 imposes bans on gun ownership by other classes of individuals—among them illegal aliens, drug addicts, domestic-violence misdemeanants—and although the court provided distinctions between those classes and the class of individuals covered under the mental illness provisions, I expect we’ll see attorneys using this opinion in attacks on other statutory provisions limiting gun ownership.

You can read the full opinion here.


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During the discussions about the health care law, there was a suggestion that doctors ask patients if they had a gun in the house with the result of that information being in the person’s EMR. Then, one of the required services is mental health care. Again, that information is part of the EMR. And, don’t forget the prescription history.

I thought that this was a back door way to accumulate information for later use. With a few more “crazies” committing some mass murders, then what would be the problem with having the health care system provide this information? After all, it would be “for the children” and provide more complete information for those issuing gun permits. In addition, this information could be used to force removal of guns from the home.

I wonder how many people are lying to their doctors about how they feel and refusing medications or mental health services for a temporary problem such as work stress or loss of a loved one, just to make sure that this information doesn’t get into the EMR cloud.

On the other hand, there may be people playing up the mental health issues in order to be declared disabled and eligible for benefits.

(EMR = Electronic medical record)

    OldNuc in reply to Liz. | December 21, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Nice sort and clear description of the problem with any government benefit program administered at any level, highly subject to manipulation.

    If a doctor asks you about a gun in your house or anything about your gun ownership you do not have to answer. Say, “It’s none of your business.” Stick to your guns.

    As far as EMRs, I’d rather carry around with me a manila file containing my health records-once a year. Afterward I place it in a lockbox when done. My son has a key.

    No matter who or what “requires” an EMR it is none of their business. I tell the doctors and admitting people the same. They are more concerned about getting paid anyway. And, they have way too much info already.

    Of course I get prescriptions and blood tests and procedures, etc. and sadly all these events are recorded. And, sadly again, I have no doubt that a BCBS would not secure my records from the NSA w/o subpoena, the RMS Titanic Obamacare or hackers.

      Concerning the gun ownership issue, I would reply with a shocked “No! Of course not!” No need for anyone to write down that the response was ambiguous.

      I keep paper copies of the MR since not all physicians are linked together, yet.

      When my mom started having more health issues, I got copies of all her MR and put them in a binder, separated by specialty. I brought her to my home and started finding new doctors for her. I would take the binder with me. One doctor looked at it and said – you must be an accountant or a librarian. I’m the accountant and my sister is the librarian. My sister took mom to her next appointment. That doctor just looked at the binder, then my sister and asked why she hadn’t cross-indexed the MR. However, both doctors asked to keep the binder for a few days. It saved mom from having to retake many tests. Moral of the story – keep a copy of your medical records.

      Stick to your guns. Bwahahaha. I suppose you’re gonna tell us that was unintentional. 🙂

      Never ever say that. I guarantee the doctor will report that response as “yes, owns guns”.

    snopercod in reply to Liz. | December 21, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    There’s a dirty little secret about your “medical” records if you ever see a psychologist or psychiatrist. The patient is not allowed to copy (or even view) the records like he/she would be if they were actual medical records. Even if you are forced by a prospective employer (say…at a nuclear plant) to take the MMPI, you can never see the results.

short, not sort …

Obviously racist, forcing all those poor black people into a life of crime by making the steal their guns.

“On the other hand, there may be people playing up the mental health issues in order to be declared disabled and eligible for benefits.”
IIRC, about 25% of SSDI is for “psychological/mental” disability and I think over 1/2 of the new approvals are for psych/mental.

legacyrepublican | December 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Well, this means no longer being a Democrat be a barrier to gun ownership.

Section 922 imposes bans on gun ownership by other classes of individuals—among them illegal aliens, drug addicts, domestic-violence misdemeanants—

How long till they add “domestic terrorists” (i.e.- Tea Partiers) to that list?

    Bruce Hayden in reply to rinardman. | December 21, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I am not going to stay up late worried about this. This would take statutory changes, highly unlikely with a Republican, but even unlikely if the Dems retake it. Gun sentiment keeps moving away from gun grabbing.

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to rinardman. | December 21, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    They should be asking about gang affiliation so they can put a “DNR” on the record when…cough…appropriate.

Amy, thanks for this good news.

One of the points I’ve made in discussion with gun control advocates when they say the “mentally ill” should be banned from possessing firearms is “Define mental illness?”

One of the items I was scared of is if the B Hussein Obama/Mrs Bill Clinton administration would pass a “gun safety” law with this and leave the definition of “mental illness” to the BAFT bureaucrats. There is a difference between Seung-Hui Cho and his multiple mental illnesses (selective mutism, major depressive disorder) and someone who occasionally takes anti-depressants like Zoloft or consults a mental health counselor.

An example I would site is a soldier I knew who is nothing short of a stud, a great man and he consulted a mental health advisor. The reason?,A very nasty divorce. Should this stop him from possessing a firearm? I think not. He has forgotten more about the safe use of firearms than that idiot Dianne Feinstein from California.

Good news from the count on this Sunday morning.

I thought it was a good opinion. It is one thing to ban gun ownership of those who are mentally disabled, but much different to ban it for life for those who were committed almost three decades ago, and have been fine since. Making things worse for the govt, the lifetime disability only fully applies to those who live in states that do not participate in a federal program that allows recovery of rights if the applicant can show he is not dangerous. So, his right was permanently lost by being distraught from a divorce and living in a state that didn’t participate in the program. Not a good enough fit to survive scrutiny.

Which gets to the second point – that the Court majority decided the case based on strict, not intermediate scrutiny. They gave good reasons why this should be so. The concurrence pointed out that intermediate scrutiny probably would have come to the same result, so maybe that determination was unnecessary, and thus gratuitous. Maybe. But it means that strict scrutiny is the standard in the 6th Circuit, which I think is a good thing.

JackRussellTerrierist | December 21, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Well done, Amy. Thank you.

“… The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

That text is written clearly enough for most to conclude that no law infringing the right to keep and bear arms would be declared Constitutional. Yet Congress and state Legislatures continue to write and pass such laws, and Presidents and Governments continue to sign such legislation, and enforce such laws, even though they are all obviously Unconstitutional. The unfortunate part of all this is forcing the citizenry to undertake the financial burden of filing suit to be able to exercise their rights.

Why do Congress and state Legislatures not pass legislation regulating the free exercise of religion under the pretext of regulating interstate and intrastate commerce? It makes as much sense as passing gun control legislation.

“Governments” should be “Governors”.

The misdemeanor dv ban should go too. What’s the difference between that and ordinary misdemeanor battery that should mean you’re banned for life from owning guns? If it’s that serious it should be charged as a felony.

    The gun-grabbers got that added to the “prohibited” list using the belief that a gun in a violent household would escalate an argument or minor assault into a murder. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s the belief.

    I’m with you; I think misdemeanors are unworthy of stripping someone of their fundamental rights. If DV is such an issue, it should be a felony. Additionally, if it’s such an issue, the communities should be reaching out to these women more than they are, to help them get out of the house/relationship. (That it’s not a felony, and that the communities aren’t putting forth extra effort, says something.)

    Propose this to a gun-grabber, however, and they’ll fight it. They want DV to remain a gun-prohibiting misdemeanor; it keeps the door open for more rights-disabling misdemeanors.

    Then again, seeking help and counseling to get out of a bad domestic situation would probably also become a sign of a gun-prohibiting “mental illness”, which would lead to fewer women seeking help, and more murders of mandated-defenseless women who do seek help.