People have been sounding the alarm about the use of the “mental illness” designation by the state in order to deny citizens their 2nd Amendment rights, and it appears that Pennsylvania State Trooper Michael L. Keyes may be the poster child for deficiencies in state and federal law regarding mental health and firearms.
He was serving as a state trooper in Newport, when he was placed on temporary leave and ordered into mental health treatment in 2006. He finished treatment in less than a year and had to battle to get his job back, even after his doctor cleared him to go back to work.
An arbitrator’s decision ordering his return to limited duty was fought by the state police, but ultimately was upheld by Commonwealth Court. The state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that ruling, and he was placed back on duty in 2010. In 2012, Commonwealth Court also ordered that Keyes be awarded nearly $16,000 in back pay.
Keyes began battling for full reinstatement of his ability to carry firearms in 2008. The problem, according to court filings, is that the federal Gun Control Act bars those who have been subject to involuntary mental health commitments from possessing guns.
In its ruling issued Tuesday, the Superior Court found there is no way for Keyes to have the record of his involuntary mental health commitment expunged. That means Keyes cannot surmount the federal ban on his having a gun off-duty, President Judge Emeritus Kate Ford Elliott wrote in the state court’s opinion.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 is a crude instrument modeled on pre-World War II German gun laws dating to the 1920s and 1930s. GCA ’68 and its predecessors were written in a time where the treatment of mental health issues were exceedingly crude. The thought that any variant of mental illness could be successfully treated was likely alien to those who wrote the laws.
This primitive thinking leads us to situations like these, where Keyes seems well enough to do his job carrying a gun and a badge on duty, but isn’t deemed well enough to carry the same gun while off duty. It’s an absurd legal predicament.
It’s time for some serious, level-headed and rational discussion about how to restore rights to those individuals temporarily mentally incapacitated do to grief, depression, PTSD, and other mental illnesses that can be managed or cured.