The Second Amendment Foundation filed a lawsuit this week in federal court in California on behalf of individuals the gun-rights group says have been improperly denied their Second Amendment rights over mental health issues.
The problem is that even if someone is ultimately found to be mentally competent again by a court in California, their name still gets flagged in a federal database because of their past record and they can’t get a gun, said Alan M. Gottlieb, the group’s founder.
“Some of our plaintiffs are 15, 16 years old — they went in for a mental evaluation. They were found to be competent and fine, but because they were in the hospital for a week, 10 days, they’ve lost their rights for their lifetime,” he said. “Some of our plaintiffs had a temporary problem, but now they can never get their rights back ever again, either.”
Mr. Gottlieb said “either one or both” of the state of California and the federal government are violating people’s constitutional rights.
A federal statute restricts people who have been adjudicated as a “mental defective” or who have been committed to a mental institution from getting a gun.
The lawsuit says that under California law, mental health “holds” can result in the denial of someone’s Second Amendment rights for five to 10 years. It argues that the federal statute has been effectively interpreted as a lifetime ban.
“There are several theories for WHY constitutional violations are keeping Plaintiffs from exercising a fundamental right, with the most benign explanation being bureaucratic inertia, and the most sinister being a hostility to Second Amendment rights by government actors and policymakers,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit comes as a number of states have passed so-called “red flag” laws since the Parkland, Fla. school shooting last year that allow family members or law enforcement to petition courts to temporarily take away a person’s guns if they’re judged to be a danger to themselves or others.
Mr. Gottlieb said the issues are slightly different, but that people subject to such a “red flag” or “extreme risk” order who end up being flagged in a federal database could struggle to try to petition to get their rights back.
“It has very long-range implications all the way down the line for lots of things,” he said. “This is going to be interesting because it’s in the 9th Circuit…the 9th Circuit is pretty good on restoration of people’s mental health stuff but bad on guns, and now we threw them a very big curveball.”