Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4), an individual who is adjudicated as mentally ill or who has received a prior involuntary commitment to a mental health institution may not possess a firearm.This federal code section was first established in the late 1960s, yet it remains unclear whether this regulation on firearms dispossession is a permanent or temporary disability.In Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department (Tyler III), Clifford Tyler brought an as-applied constitutional challenge against § 922(g)(4), alleging that the statute was unconstitutional because it prevented him from possessing a firearm even though he was no longer mentally ill and posed no danger to himself or others.In Beers v. Attorney General (Beers II), Bradley Beers claimed that § 922(g)(4) was unconstitutional because as applied, it continued to restrict his ability to purchase or own a gun even though he was rehabilitated from the condition that led to his involuntary commitment.In Mai v. United States (Mai III), Duy Mai also challenged § 922(g)(4) as unconstitutional as applied to his circumstances because he had successfully proven to a Washington court that he was no longer mentally ill, yet federal restrictions continued to prevent him from purchasing a firearm.For Clifford Tyler, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the government had not offered data sufficient to justify a lifetime ban where Tyler had been rehabilitated.Bradley Beers’s claim before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals was unsuccessful after the court held that Beers was not protected by the Second Amendment at all; however, Beers was able to later obtain a firearm after Pennsylvania’s relief-from-disabilities program was certified by the federal government.Duy Mai’s claim was denied entirely after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the government had offered data sufficient to justify a lifetime ban, irrespective of Mai’s rehabilitation.In each as-applied challenge, the government relied on the same meta-analysis of data to support § 922(g)(4). The Tyler III court found this meta-analysis insufficient to justify a lifetime ban against rehabilitated individuals and thus held that § 922(g)(4) did not survive intermediate scrutiny.The Mai III court, on the other hand, found that the meta-analysis was sufficient to justify a lifetime ban regardless of rehabilitation and that the statute survived intermediate scrutiny.But because the Ninth Circuit’s application of the intermediate scrutiny standard was too broad and because it overlooked critical flaws in the data, future courts considering as-applied challenges to § 922(g)(4) should follow the precedent set by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Tyler III, rather than that set by the Ninth Circuit in Mai III. To impose such a severe restriction on Second Amendment rights as a lifetime ban, the government must provide stronger justification using more accurate data and tailor enforcement with a temporal limitation.
Melissa J. Araiza,
Once Mentally Ill, Always So? Maybe Yes. Maybe No: Addressing the 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) Circuit Split and Lifetime Gun Bans for the (Formerly) Mentally Ill,
100 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol100/iss3/7