Constitutional rights aren’t irrevocable rights. There are a handful of circumstances when we, as a nation, yank someone’s right to vote, for example. While rights come from our very nature as humans, revocation of those rights is something we do as a matter of punishment all the time. There are also some people who simply can’t be trusted with their rights due to mental health issues.
However, taking away someone’s right should never be easy. The problem is that in Pennsylvania, that isn’t the case. In fact, it’s all too easy to permanently revoke someone’s right to keep and bear arms.
Now, a lawsuit is seeking to change that, and the Gun Owners of America have filed a brief in that lawsuit [Edited to add: The lawsuit was apparently brought by the Firearms Owners Against Crime who GOA is offering support to on this matter].
From a press release earlier this week:
Philadelphia, PA — On July 3, 2019, an Amicus Curiae brief was filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by attorneys Joshua Prince and Adam Kraut from the Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C., in conjunction with Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League, Firearms Owners Against Crime, Gun Owners Foundation (GOA’s Legal Arm), and the Second Amendment Organization. The brief is supporting gun owners who had their constitutional right to keep and bear arms violated by Section 302 of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA).
Under current Pennsylvania law, an individual who is involuntarily subjected to an evaluation and treatment pursuant to 50 P.S. § 7302 is permanently barred from exercising his constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The GOA-supported brief outlines relevant state, federal, and US Supreme Court precedents that such prohibitions are a violation of the Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment due process protections.
“We are arguing that the permanent prohibition to own a firearm for an involuntary, Section 302 commitment is unconstitutional and a violation of John Doe’s right of due process under the Commonwealth Constitution and the US Constitution,” said Dr. Val Finnell, Pennsylvania Director for Gun Owners of America. “The only thing required to lose your gun rights under the MHPA is a stroke of a doctor’s pen and that’s wrong.”
That should scare the hell out of anyone in Pennsylvania.
Even if you assume that no doctor would ever use this power maliciously–something I’m not willing to concede will never happen, though I will say it would be rare–there’s the simple fact that doctors can be wrong. With the stroke of that pen, they can involuntarily admit someone who isn’t really a threat to anyone, including themselves.
Yet under Pennsylvania law, it doesn’t matter. That individual can no longer exercise their Second Amendment rights.
Further, even if the doctor isn’t wrong, it may well be a temporary situation. The death of a child or the end of a relationship can make someone very depressed, enough so that they may consider taking their own life. Yet, when they get beyond that, they’re not really a risk to anyone ever again. Others battle depression continually throughout their lives, but never represent a threat to themselves or others despite the concerns of loved ones. That’s why there’s a process for determining if someone represents an ongoing threat.
What Pennsylvania does, however, is allow a single individual with minimal exposure to a patient make a determination that someone cannot be trusted with their Second Amendment rights for the rest of their lives.
Personally, I side with GOA on this 100 percent. The Pennsylvania law needs to be overturned and overturned hard.