Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Second Amendment Success Story

from the Sixth Circuit, a few weeks ago: Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sheriff's Department
The decision is 46 pages long. A short, two-page concurrence follows. Read this decision. All of it.
Here's what it is about:
28 years ago, Clifford Charles Tyler was involuntarily committed for less than one month after he underwent an emotionally devastating divorce (his wife ran away with his money and another man). As a result, he cannot possess a firearm. That is because of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(4). It prohibits the possession of a firearm by any individual "who has been committed to a mental institution."
This is so even though Tyler (who is now 73 years old) is not mentally ill, has no history of substance abuse, and has no criminal history. The man just went through a bad divorce.
The Second Amendment says that Mr. Tyler has the right to keep and bear arms, so he sued in light of 922(g)(4)'s infringement of that Constitutional right. He had to sue because, although federal law allows relief from firearms disabilities, the program, which the ATF is supposed to administer, has no funds. And, although federal grants are available to the various states to implement their own relief-from-firearms-disabilities programs, Tyler's state of residence, Michigan, has not implemented such a program.
Now, get this, Tyler actually won. Some highlights from the decision:
  • Tyler's challenge was an as-applied challenge. In other words, he did not argue that 922(g)(4) is unconstitutional on its face (or in every application), but only that it was unconstitutional as applied to him. This is good advice for Constitutional challenges. They should all be as-applied challenges.
  • a firearms prohibition on the mentally ill was not a common thing in 1791 (because it is vital what happened over two centuries ago).
  • the Sixth Circuit applied strict scrutiny, thus requiring a compelling governmental interest and a narrowly tailored law to achieve that interest. (the Tenth Circuit, and quite a few other Circuits, apply intermediate scrutiny)
  • the government's two interests -- protection of the community and prevention of suicide -- are, in fact, compelling interests; BUT
  • 922(g)(4) is not narrowly tailored to achieve those interests in this case. The Court noted that some people overcome mental illness. It also cited the relief-from-disabilities programs as affirmative evidence that Congress actually thinks that some former mentally ill people should now be able to possess firearms.
  • the decision has a decent summary of Second Amendment challenges to other statutory firearms prohibitions (which is one reason why it is worth the read, and also worth a spot on your shelf).
This is the first decision since SCOTUS's decision in Heller to find a Second Amendment violation. Hip-Hip-Hooray

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