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An interesting court decision impacting the Second Amendment and mental health was handed down from a Federal Court in Pennsylvania last week. In the matter of Keyes v. Lynch, the Middle District of Pennsylvania held that Jonathan Yox, who had been involuntarily committed to a mental health institution in 2006, should have his right to possess and own firearms restored under federal law.

As many of us in the firearms-owning community know, an involuntary commitment to a mental institution is one of the myriad ways Americans can lose the right to possess a firearm, under 18 U.S.C. sec. 922. In this case, Yox* became a prohibited person when was involuntarily committed to a mental institution at the age of 15 because “[h]e had been emotionally devastated by his parents’ divorce and had begun cutting himself under the influence of an older girl. They also had made a suicide pact together.” Under Pennsylvania law, this initial commitment could not exceed 120 hours; Vox was committed on April 3, 2006, and released on April 6, 2006.

This was apparently the end of Yox’s involvement with mental health authorities, but his involvement with firearms was just beginning. Two years later, at the age of 17, Yox enlisted in the United States Army, where he “was trained to use, and did use, various kinds of firearms, including fully automatic rifles, machine guns, explosives, and grenade launchers. Upon his return from active duty in Afghanistan, Mr. Yox was not recommended for further psychological evaluation after his deployment briefing.” Yox was honorably discharged from military service in 2012.

Yox later secured employment as a State Correctional Officer at a State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. In this position, Yox “actively possesses and uses a firearm in his official capacity as a state correctional officer. He is permitted to possess firearms in his official capacity as a law enforcement officer by operation of 18 U.S.C. § 925(a)(1), which provides an exception to the firearms disability created by § 922(g)(4) for individuals benefitting in their official capacities the federal or state government….” At the time the case was heard, Yox was still employed as a state correctional officer.

Yox had been prohibited from owning a firearm by both the U.S. Code and Pennsylvania law. 18 PaC.S.A. sec. 6105(c)(4) prohibits a “person who has been adjudicated as an incompetent or who has been involuntarily committed for inpatient care and treatment” from possessing a firearm. In 2008, Yox filed for restoration of his state firearms rights with a Pennsylvania court.

Ultimately, Pennsylvania restored his right to possess a firearm under commonwealth law, based on a finding that he “no longer suffers from the mental health condition…[and can] safely possess a firearm without risk to himself or any other person.” The court, however, held that they didn’t have the power to restore Yox’s rights under federal law, because federal law allows state courts to restore the right to own a firearm under federal law only if the state adheres to federally-prescribed standards for dealing with those matters. Pennsylvania, apparently, does not do this.

The District Court specifically examined the issue whether or not Yox had a Second Amendment right to possess a firearm. It concluded that he did. At the end of the day, his years in the Army and at a state correctional institution in which firearms were standard duty equipment was sufficient to overcome any doubts about Yox’s responsibility with firearms:

It requires a suspension of logic to believe that Mr. Yox is mentally stable enough to possess and use various types of firearms in his professional capacity, including putting his life on the line for his country while on active military duty, but is not mentally stable enough to possess a firearm for self-protection in his home….

The attorney for Michael Keyes (whose similar case was dismissed on procedural grounds earlier,) Joshua Prince, commented:

it is extremely refreshing to see Judge Jones acknowledge that those who “are mentally ill” is a distinct and separate category from those who had an single-isolated mental health commitment over a decade ago. I believe we will see a number of federal challenges, some already pending in Pennsylvania, in relation to whether mental health commitments can strip an individual of a constitutional right, especially under Section 302 of the Mental Health and Procedures Act, as it does not provide any form of due process.

I can’t disagree with that. This case was an incredibly favorable one, though, and it will be interesting to see whether or not courts will be willing to restore rights for others who became prohibited persons because of a similar one-off involuntary commitment decades in their past, but did not subsequently spend years in military service. As for any putative Obama Administration appeal of this decision…stay tuned.

* The case is formally styled Michael L. Keyes and Jonathan K. Yox v. Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the United States, et al., although Keyes’ claims were dismissed earlier on procedural grounds.

(Hat tip: Instapundit, Eugene Volokh.)

41 Responses to Former Soldier Has Firearms Rights Restored After Involuntary Commitment

    • Because “Black lives should matter to white folks but in the black community…. not so much” is too long for a catchy acronym.

      • As everyone knows even these days a large percentage of blacks ALWAYS think that they are somehow being mistreated. Alot of blacks think this, even though there’s usually NO REASON for them to suspect that. This rings especially true when they don’t get something that they want. Regardless of what the REAL reason might be, blacks would rather just blame everyone else and call whites racists. Even though they probably know that they are full of shit.

    • I agree FULLY. They definitely do, and the threats to black lives are not getting enough attention in our nation. So what do you propose we do to reach out to the people responsible for the murder of 90% of black victims (Per the FBI statistics for 2013)? Because that’s other black people. 90% of black murder victims are killed by other black people. So what should we do to get blacks to stop killing each other?

      • More welfarez?

        But seriously, why don’t black lives* matter as much to other black* people?

        *Complete acknowledgement that the black people who kill other black people, are a small subset, and is not indicative of the behavior of all black people.

  1. Let’s see … the person suing fedzilla to recognize their right to keep and bear arms had a short interaction with mental health as a minor, has had no further interaction with mental health since, has no criminal record, was honorably discharged from the U.S. military, and works daily with firearms.

    It’s almost like the attorney who brought this case to the courts was actually extremely shrewd and competent. Who is the attorney/s for the plaintiff?

      • How would anyone know about ones involuntary commitment as a minor? I had a bit of an episode when I was 13 and was put in a psych ward for 2 days over some stuff that is an extremely long story. It was a one off deal similar to the subject of the article. I have filled out multiply 4473s and bought many firearms in the 16 years since then. Am I a prohibited person? I was under the impression that juvenile matters were sealed after one becomes an adult. Do I need to be looking for a lawyer?

        • It will depend on whether you were voluntarily or involuntarily committed. The District Court in this matter found that it was immaterial as to whether the individual was a juvenile or adult. You definitely want to ensure that you are not prohibited as a result of a commitment. Make sure to look for an attorney with substantial experience handling state and federal firearms matters in your state.

        • Interesting. defiantly involuntary. Then again when you are a minor, isn’t everything involuntary. You kinda gotta do what your parents say. How does something like this get reported? As I can pass a NICS in a matter of minutes, I would assume that the feds have no record of the incident. However, maybe the state does? I wouldn’t think so considering I have an arkansas ccp.

          Oh, so many ways to become a prohibited person. I might be committing felonies right now due to my possession of firearms and not even be aware.

        • It also matters if you were actually committed or put on a mental health hold. If just a hold, it probably doesn’t count as far as firearms go.

      • Interesting website! Everyone here should check you guys out-looks like you’re doing GOOD work…

        • Doing good work if you can AFFORD them! I had a similar issue, except I didn’t attempt nor threaten suicide. My estranged wife (ex, now) said I did. Then, Johnny Law came and found me sitting down, I was taken to the hospital. Instead of the police making a statement (as required by law when a verbal authorization is given), the MHMR delegate allowed my ex to make a petition that was so vaguely worded, its not funny… The doc saw me when I first showed up (a half hour before the petition was filed) and, with the officer standing there, I decided to remain silent (since the officer was still there and I had NO IDEA what I was arrested for). I wasn’t even told I had rights. THAT little gem of a piece of paper was signed THE FOLLOWING DAY… In an 18 hour stretch, the nursing staff noted 5 times “patient cooperative…” beginning with the moment I arrived. Oh, and I’m an honorably discharged combat vet, too… oh, and a sworn law enforcement officer…. and I didn’t find out I was prohibited until 17 years later when I went to buy another gun!

          And not a single lawyer in PA will touch my case without a couple thousand $$$$ up front (with no guarantees of success)… Thanks, Pennsylvania! I’ve never even lived in your crumby state!!!!

  2. Hey TTAG, do you enjoy all the airtime you’re giving the BLM crowd with all the useless comments by their ilk?

  3. this sets a precedent, and can be used as information in any other federal trials for the defense!
    Non Sibi Sed Patriae

    • I see the precedent as a teenager going through the toughest part in his life at that time and influenced by predators being mentally committed, then after years of dedicated service to different levels of government has his rights restored. So would someone who had a similarly difficult adolescence but didn’t join the military and/or the police be given the same restoration of rights? I would venture no.

  4. Unless things were different in 2006, cutting was an automatic disqualifier at MEPS. I was a bit surprised to see him able to enlist with the cutting and involuntary committal.

    It is good to see that he served honorably and was discharged without issue and that one mental health issue in the past isn’t indicative of a lifelong problem.

    • I wondered about that too… but back in the heady days of aught-six you could get waivers for just about anything other than current asthma or a bum ticker.

      Of course he could have also lied by omission…

    • I walked into MEPS with a previous disqualification from the Air Force because of a series of seizures. I also probably had broken 10 bones by that time and had already had knee surgery.
      When asked if I had ever had these things at MEPS, my recruiter told me to say “NO, which of course, stands for “Never ending Opportunity”. He said, no matter what the question is, the answer is “No”. Worked like a charm. That was 2001.

      • On the one hand your recruiter encouraged fraudulent enlistment and you did it.

        On the other hand virtually everyone has something that’s a DQ in their background… if you weren’t compromising the safety of others then it’s between you, the fence post and the UCMJ (if you were to be caught).

      • No one has any medical problems until they get to the fleet, then it all shows up.

        My recruiter was pretty straight forward on medical issues, if you told him and its disqualifying, you are done. Your file would be shredded. Its one of those – keep it to yourself – things where if you tell them, the ones with moral conviction will have to act on it.

        • Some recruiters are honest and straight up. Others just want numbers and will encourage you to lie.

          Mine basically told me “Here’s what will DQ you. If you have anything like that in your background it never happened. You’ve never even had a cold.”

          Unless it was something they would actually catch at MEPS he didn’t care. If you got busted after you shipped to boot or later on, that was your problem. He just cared that you signed on the line, got through MEPS and showed up to boot.

          Really, I don’t think anyone at my recruiting station cared about anything but numbers.

  5. I’m guessing he got a waiver, a really nice headshrinker approved by MEPS or he lied on his medical prescreen…?

  6. No one has any medical problems until they get to the fleet, then it all shows up.

    My recruiter was pretty straight forward on medical issues, if you told him and its disqualifying, you are done. Your file would be shredded. Its one of those – keep it to yourself – things where if you tell them, the ones with moral conviction will have to act on it.

  7. What I want to know is how in the heck he wasn’t barred from enlistment after being committed. Lied at MEPS, or did they just not give a damn back when we had wars going on?

  8. The GCA needs to be struck down

    Imagine if the 13th was interpreted as the 2nd has been by Politicians: ” Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction except if the party is under 18, have been deemed mentally ill, is near a polling place, an education facility or restaurant that serves alcohol or has previously been convicted of a crime and served its punishment”

  9. How about people with his commitment record that didn’t serve in the military and work as an armed guards? If his work experience formed the bedrock of his appeal dies this suggest it’s required to get rights restored?

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