By and large, those who have been involuntarily committed to mental health facilities are prohibited from owning guns. The reason is that those whose commitments extend beyond short-term treatment often have deep mental health issues that may well make them a risk to the public should they obtain firearms. A paranoid schizophrenic, for example, could suffer a psychotic break and believe the people in a church are out to harm them.
At least, that’s the thinking.
However, what about those who are involuntarily committed and then never have issues beyond that time? Why are they prohibited from owning firearms when they clearly don’t represent a threat to anyone? In most cases, there’s a mechanism in place for people to get those rights restored, but what about in states without such a mechanism?
That’s the question at the heart of a lawsuit coming out of California.
A Sonoma County man who says he was committed to a psychiatric ward years ago at 18 is suing the federal government and California over his prohibition from owning guns.
Easton Stokes argues in his lawsuit that an “unconstitutionally broad ban” on firearms possession for anyone ever committed to a mental institution violates his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
While federal law bars gun possession by people who have been committed to a mental facility, it allows anyone no longer deemed a public safety threat to have their gun rights restored, the suit said. Although the federal government has delegated the restoration process to states, California has no such mechanism, the suit filed Monday in Northern California U.S. District Court contends.
The state Department of Justice said Tuesday it had not reviewed the matter and could not comment.
Stokes, now a construction worker in his mid-30s who wants to inherit his grandfather’s guns, said in his suit that during his last year of high school, he took psilocybin “magic” mushrooms, which worsened “mental changes” he’d been experiencing. He started having trouble sleeping, stopped eating and felt depressed, according to the suit.
A resident of Forestville at the time, he checked himself into a health facility in nearby Santa Rosa, and staff there sent him via ambulance to a psychiatric center, where he was committed under state law for 16 days, the suit said. After his release, his psychiatrist gradually decreased his medication and within four months removed him from it, according to the suit.
“In the nearly two decades that have passed, Mr. Stokes has not suffered any mental health issues,” the suit said. “Mr. Stokes is respected by his community, and considered to be intelligent, forthright, humorous and personable. Mr. Stokes has volunteered as a teen mentor, and has been consistently employed. Mr. Stokes is mentally fit and not a danger to himself or others.”
However, when Stokes applied to inherit his grandfather’s guns, he was denied. While there was no reason given for the denial, Stokes says in the lawsuit that his time in a mental health facility was the only possible reason for such a denial.
First, I think he’s underestimating how anti-gun California is. That said, he’s probably correct as for why he was denied, and it’s bull. After half a lifetime without issue, he should be free and clear to own firearms. Not everyone who spends time in a mental health facility is a lifetime patient, after all.
What California does, however, only increases the stigma of mental illness. Some will look at how they’re treating Stokes and figure that it’s justified because “crazy.” However, Stokes doesn’t appear to be any such thing.
As a result, some will simply refuse to seek treatment, fearful they would lose their gun rights.
Way to go, California.
Anyway, Stokes is suing to get his gun rights restored, something he shouldn’t have to do but since he lives in California, he has to. I sincerely hope he’s successful. If not, I sincerely hope he appeals until this ends up before the Supreme Court where they can slap the state down.