Should a one-time commitment to a mental health facility result in the permanent revocation of one’s Second Amendment rights? According to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, maybe not.
The Court ruled in a divided 10-6 decision that the mental health portion of the Gun Control Act of 1968 may be unconstitutional. The section in question bans anyone from owning a firearm “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution” involuntarily. The problem, according to the court, is that the law places no time limit on the gun restrictions.
“None of the government’s evidence squarely answers the key question at the heart of this case: Is it reasonably necessary to forever bar all previously institutionalized persons from owning a firearm?” Judge Julia Smith Gibbons asked in her majority opinion.
The suit was originally brought in 2011 by a 74-year-old Michigan man named Clifford C. Tyler. Tyler was placed in a mental institution in 1986 after his wife ran away with another man and filed for divorce. The experience, according to court documents, left him “emotionally devastated.” The court committed him to a mental health facility for no more than 30 days, and he was released within four weeks.
Since then he held a job for nearly two decades, remarried, and passed a psychological evaluation in 2012. Doctors noted that Tyler’s response to his divorce was a “brief reactive depressive episode,” but he has shown no signs of depression for the last thirty years.
Despite this evidence, Tyler still found himself on the prohibited persons list when he tried to purchase a firearm in February 2011. His attempts to appeal the background check results failed, and he sued the U.S. attorney general and his local sheriff in Hillsdale County, Mich., in 2012.
A federal trial court dismissed his lawsuit, so Tyler appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to The Wall Street Journal. Now the case is set to go back to the District Court in Michigan.
It’s unclear how Tyler will fare as his case moves forward, but gun proponents are hoping the court will acknowledge the non-static nature of mental illness. As Circuit Judge David William McKeague noted in his opinion, “Mental illness is not static, so it cannot be constitutional to permanently prevent Clifford Tyler from exercising his Second Amendment right without affording him some sort of process to demonstrate that the non-permanent label of ‘mentally ill’ no longer applies to him.”