The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a decades-old federal prohibition against gun ownership by people committed to mental health institutions could violate the Second Amendment, reviving a challenge to the law. The case was brought [WSJ report] by 74-year-old Clifford Tyler, who was committed to a mental health institution 25 years ago but has since been discharged on a clean bill of health. Writing for the majority, Judge Julia Gibbons applied an intermediate scrutiny test to the government prohibition on gun ownership by a specific class of persons—those previously committed to mental health institutions. While acknowledging that the government presented compelling evidence “of the need to bar firearms from those currently suffering from mental illness and those just recently removed from an involuntary commitment,” the court stated that the evidence does not establish “why Congress is justified in permanently barring anyone who has been previously committed, particularly in cases like Tyler’s, where a number of healthy, peaceable years separate the individual from their troubled history.” Thus, the court noted that the government failed to “establish a reasonable fit between its important objectives of public safety and suicide prevention and its permanent ban on the possession of firearms by persons adjudicated to be mentally unstable” years ago but since recovered. Judge Karen Nelson dissented, stating that precedent supported the prohibitions on the ownership of firearms by the mentally ill as “presumptively lawful” and that “[t]he legislature as opposed to the judiciary is far better equipped … to make sensitive public policy judgments (within constitutional limits) concerning the dangers in carrying firearms and the manner to combat those risks.” The case has been remanded to the trial court for a determination on the constitutionality of the continued prohibition on gun ownership by Tyler.
This decision comes in the wake of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruling last week that restored [JURIST report] gun ownership rights of individuals convicted of minor crimes. Gun control and the Second Amendment continue to be controversial topics across the US. Earlier this month the New Jersey Second Amendment Society filed [JURIST report] a lawsuit against the state’s Attorney General in New Jersey’s district court alleging the state’s stun gun ban is unconstitutional. In June the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that a state law conviction on reckless domestic assault is sufficient to bar possession of a firearm under federal law. Earlier in June Hawaii Governor David Ige signed a bill [JURIST report] requiring gun owners to be listed on an FBI database, notifying police if a Hawaii citizen is arrested in another state and providing a continuous criminal record check on those individuals seeking to possess a firearm. Also in June the US Supreme Court denied certiorari [JURIST report] in two separate cases challenging bans on assault-style weapons. The court denied the appeals without comment, letting stand lower court rulings that had upheld the bans [JURIST report] as constitutional. In response to the mass killing in Orlando in June, the UN’s top human rights official urged [JURIST report] the US to increase its gun control measures. The Ninth Circuit [official website] held [JURIST report] in June that the right to carry a concealed gun is not within Second Amendment right to bear arms.