A federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled yesterday that a federal law that kept a Michigan man, once briefly committed to a mental institution, from owning a gun was unconstitutional, reported the Wall Street Journal.
The Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously 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” violated the Second Amendment rights of the plaintiff, 73-year-old Clifford Charles Tyler.
“The government’s interest in keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill is not sufficiently related to depriving the mentally healthy, who had a distant episode of commitment, of their constitutional rights,” wrote Judge Danny Boggs in the ruling.
Tyler’s lawyer called the ruling a “forceful decision to protect Second Amendment rights,” and that he hoped it would have a “significant impact on the jurisprudence in the area of gun rights.”
Tyler had been institutionalized for less than a month in 1986 after “emotional problems associated with a divorce,” the Journal reported. He attempted to buy a gun in 2011 and was denied based upon this previous commitment.
While federal law has often provided for “relief from disabilities appeals in which people disqualified from gun ownership can appeal the ban, but the program was defunded in 1992. The federal government does, however, allow for individual states to set up their own programs, but Michigan did not set up one.
Judge Boggs wrote that Michigan’s lack of a “relief” program was unreasonable obstacle to Tyler’s rights.
“[W]hether Tyler may exercise his right to bear arms depends on whether his state of residence has chose to accept the carrot of federal grant money and has implemented a relief program. An individual’s ability to exercise a fundamental right necessary to our system of ordered liberty cannot turn on such a distinction.”
Tyler’s situation is one that most people could sympathize with – breakups, especially divorces, can be incredibly painful and difficult – and an isolated incident during an a rough patch decades ago shouldn’t automatically disqualify someone from owning a gun. Each case is different. But this decision could possibly open a door for those with serious mental illnesses to own firearms, which could lead to dangerous situations down the road.