The Second Amendment and People Who Had Been Involuntarily Committed 20 Years Ago
[A.] Today, our court advances an extraordinarily sweeping view of government power. Against the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, we hold that the government may forever deprive a person of the individual right to bear arms—if that person spends even one day committed involuntarily, even as a juvenile, and no matter the person’s current mental health soundness. Of course, we only adopt this view for the Second Amendment. For other, more fashionable constitutional rights, we would not countenance such an abridgment….
By all accounts, Duy Mai is an American success story. Mai was born in a Thai refugee camp to a Vietnamese family and moved to the United States at the age of two. As so many immigrants have, Mai has flourished in this country. [Details omitted. -EV] … Mai has been a productive member of society for nearly 20 years.
But like most people, Mai has faced his share of challenges. At the age of 17, he suffered from depression, for which he was involuntarily committed to a mental health hospital for a little over two months total after a Washington state court determined that he might be a harm to others. But since Mai’s commitment order expired in August 2000, he has not been re-committed and his medical record shows no reoccurrence of serious mental illness. He has no criminal history or substance abuse issues….
In 2014, Mai successfully petitioned the State of Washington to remove the state-law barrier [to possessing guns]. Mai submitted his medical history showing that he’s been free of depression since at least 2010 and that, based on the opinions of multiple psychologists, he is not considered a significant risk of suicide or harm to others. Based on this evidence and declarations from his friends and family, the Washington court agreed that Mai doesn’t present a substantial danger to himself or to the public and that the symptoms that led to his commitment are not reasonably likely to reoccur. Thus, today, under state law, Mai’s right to possess a firearm has been fully restored.
[But] federal law … prohibits an individual who has been “committed to a mental institution” from possessing a firearm [so Mai sued] …. Without bothering itself with the text, history, or tradition of the Second Amendment, [our court’s panel opinion] decided that, due to Mai’s brief commitment, he was not a “law-abiding, responsible” citizen and, therefore, not protected by the Second Amendment’s “core.” In so ruling, the court compared Mai’s past commitment to a conviction for domestic violence. The court also concluded that Washington’s adjudication of his mental soundness and subsequent restoration of his gun rights—and Mai’s present-day mental health status—were irrelevant to the constitutional analysis. Finally, with the help of studies from Sweden, Australia, Italy, and other countries, the court ruled that the permanent deprivation of Mai’s fundamental right cleared intermediate scrutiny. We should’ve corrected the layers of errors in this decision through en banc review….
[B.] If operating on a clean slate, I would hew to Heller‘s and McDonald‘s fidelity to the Second Amendment’s history, tradition, and text. The precise contours of such a review should be subject to further refinement; but we might, as Justice Scalia suggested in Heller itself, look to the original meaning …. Under this view, a law may only constitutionally prohibit the core right
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