A decision this week out of the Court of Appeals of the Sixth Circuit has added fuel to a new front to the 2nd Amendment debate. Under federal law, certain groups, or classes of people, are barred from owning a firearm. Those groups include convicted felons, fugitives and people with a prior history of domestic batteries. The case decided this week in the Sixth Circuit deals with a provision in the law which bars people who have been committed to a mental institution from owning a firearm. The law allows an individual to appeal for relief from the prohibitions imposed by this law to the Attorney General of the United States. The Attorney General has delegated the authority to investigate such petitions to the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. This appeal process is called the “relief from disabilities program.” The law is pretty detailed about what an individual is required to provide in such a petition to the director of the ATF. The law requires that the petitioner provide copies of the court order mandating commitment to a mental institution, and all other medical records having anything to do with the person’s mental condition along with letters of recommendation from at least three people along with a written consent allowing the Attorney General to obtain any medical records. The law then sets out in detail what the Director of the ATF is supposed to do when it comes to making a decision as to whether to grant relief from this law. However, in 1992 Congress defunded the relief from disabilities program. The defunding of this program has continued since then. In 1998 Congress authorized federal grants to help states pay for determining which individuals may own a gun and to help states pay to provide this information to the federal government. However, in order for a state to qualify for these federal funds, each state has to show the federal government that they have an appeal process similar to the relief from disabilities program which gives people who are barred from owning a gun the right to an appeal which allows their case to be considered for relief from the state’s prohibition. About half of the states have established such relief processes. Michigan is one of the states that has not. This is where this case comes from.
Seventy three year old Clifford Charles Tyler had been involuntarily confined to a mental institution by a Michigan Court in 1986 because he was suicidal. Tyler had been served with divorce papers by his wife who had been cheating on him. The opinion details in great length the seriousness of the mental issues that Tyler was dealing with and the extensive steps that were taken to treat him. In 1999 Tyler remarried and in 2012 his psychologist reported that he has fully recovered from his mental condition and that he can no longer detect any mental illness.
In 2011 Tyler attempted to purchase a gun but was denied the right to do so because his name showed up on an FBI data base as someone who had previously been committed to a mental institution. He appealed this determination by the FBI but his appeal was denied. Tyler was informed that because Michigan has not established a relief process, there’s nothing that the federal government can do for him.