Federal Court Rules In Favor Of Gun Rights For Those Previously Institutionalized
Credit: Getty Images
December 19, 2014

All kidding aside, under the current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, it's not an unreasonable position to take. I just think the whole idea of a "right" to own a deadly weapon should be revisited as a practical matter, but that's just me:

A panel of three Republican members of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that a man who was previously “committed to a mental institution,” mightnonetheless be allowed to have a gun, despite a federal ban on firearm possession by such individuals.

The decision, which was handed down on Thursday, concerns a man named Clifford Charles Tyler who was involuntarily committed to a mental institution in 1986 after he went through an “emotionally devastating divorce.” At the time, a mental health evaluation of Tyler found that he was “crying non-stop, not sleeping, depressed, and suicidal.” The commitment occurred after Tyler’s daughters “became scared and contacted the police,” and a state court later found that Tyler could be “reasonably expected within the near future to intentionally or unintentionally seriously physically injure [himself] or others, and has engaged in an act or acts or made significant threats that are substantially supportive of the expectation.” Following his commitment, however, Tyler rejoined the workforce and remarried, and he has not experienced another “depressive episode.”

According to the court’s opinion by Judge Danny Boggs, Congress authorized a process permitting people like Tyler who are legally prohibited from owning guns to “appl[y] to the Attorney General for relief from the disabilities imposed by Federal laws.” This program, however, is not funded. Instead, Congress authorized grants to states allowing them to set up their own programs for screening people who may have their gun rights restored. Tyler’s home state of Michigan, however, has not set up such a program.

The case, in other words, turns on the question of whether, in the absence of a program to sort out which people who were once committed to mental institutions should nonetheless be trusted with a deadly weapon, courts should err on the side of allowing such individuals to possess such weapons — or whether a better course would be to err on the side of keeping guns away from people who were once deemed likely to “intentionally or unintentionally seriously physically injure [themselves] or others.” Boggs decides to go with the first option.

This decision is surprising in light of the Supreme Court’s own views on gun ownership by the mentally ill. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court’s seminal Second Amendment decision, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Court that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.”

Boggs, however, argues that a ban on gun possession by people with mental illnesses is different than a ban applying to people who have previously been committed. The “two categories,” Boggs concludes, are not “coextensive.”

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