We all agree that some persons should be legally prohibited from gun ownership due to severe mental illness. But a federal appeals court ruled that a federal gun law is unconstitutional because its particular version of this prohibition is too broad.
A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled 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 Clifford Charles Tyler, a 73-year-old Hillsdale County man.
“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, an appointee of President Reagan, for the panel. [Wall Street Journal]
The man in question was an in-patient at a psychiatric treatment facility for one month in the 1980′s. He was distraught over a difficult divorce. (Not sure if he was most upset about losing his wife or his money.) That law would have deprived him of gun ownership forever, without sufficient basis in protecting society and without any way to prove that he is now mentally healthy.
The larger issue here is that mental health is subject to degree and to change. A person’s mental health can improve or deteriorate. And no one has perfect mental health. We all have our issues. In my opinion, only those persons whose mental health makes them a danger to self or others should be denied gun ownership.
I think the same thinking applies to those new-fangled gun laws that take away someone’s gun if anyone decides to get a restraining order against them. It’s just too broad a criteria. If the restraining order is based on threatening criminal behavior, and the person has a chance to prove his innocence, fine. But absent any proof of a compelling reason why someone should not be allowed to own a gun, it’s a constitutional right.