Tags: gun | ownership | militia | illness

Mental Illness History Ruled on Appeal to Not Bar Gun Ownership

Friday, 19 Dec 2014 10:14 PM

A federal appeals court concluded that a history of mental illness shouldn’t bar citizens from owning a weapon in a first such ruling that may expand the rights of millions of U.S. gun owners.

A federal law barring a Michigan man in 2011 from owning a gun because he was committed to a mental institution more than 20 years earlier is unconstitutional, a three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based court ruled Dec. 18.

A provision in law that bans gun ownership for anyone “adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution” violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the panel found.

The ruling stems from a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found, for the first time, that the Constitution protects individual gun rights. In that case, the high court struck down a handgun ban imposed by the District of Columbia and the ruling raised questions about other restrictions on weapons.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the D.C. case resolved a constitutional question that had lurked for two centuries: whether the Second Amendment covers people who aren’t affiliated with a state-run militia.

Clifford Tyler’s case in Michigan also raises questions about the constitutional basis for restricting gun laws applying to other settings and for other classes of gunowners, Adam Winkler, a University of Los Angeles law professor, said in an e-mail today.

Narrowing Laws

“If seriously applied, this ruling could mean invalidation or narrowing of laws banning felons from having guns and restricting guns in school zones,” Winkler said.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment after regular business hours today on the appeals court’s ruling.

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.

‘Catch-22’

The appeals court noted that since 1992, Congress has failed to fund programs that pay reviewers of such gun applications.

That puts citizens such as Tyler in a “Catch-22” position, Judge Danny Boggs of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said in his 48-page ruling.

“Tyler may not possess a weapon because he was once committed to a mental institution,” the judge noted. When he sought to get an exception, he was denied his rights to review because of Congressional inaction, Boggs said.

The law also suffers from constitutional flaws when it seeks to ban all citizens who have ever been in a mental hospital, the judge added.

“Not all previously institutionalized persons are mentally ill at a later time, so the law is at least somewhat overbroad,” he wrote.

The U.S. Census bureau said the country’s population totaled more than 310 million in 2011, the year Tyler was denied a gun permit. A Gallup poll that year showed 47 percent of U.S. households owned a gun.

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A federal appeals court concluded that a history of mental illness shouldn't bar citizens from owning a weapon in a first such ruling that may expand the rights of millions of U.S. gun owners.A federal law barring a Michigan man in 2011 from owning a gun because he was...
gun, ownership, militia, illness
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2014-14-19
Friday, 19 Dec 2014 10:14 PM
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