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.
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.DONATE
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