Gun Control

Pennsylvania State Trooper Suing To Get Right to Bear Arms in Private Capacity Back

Prohibited by federal and state law from owning a firearm because of a previous involuntary commitment.

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grendelkhan/flickr

A federal district court judge in Pennsylvania granted a motion to amend judgment, reviving a lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania state trooper against the federal government to get his "private capacity firearm rights" back.

Judge John Jones III's ruling gives both sides ten days to agree to terms to a new trial for the trooper, Michael Keyes, who is prohibited by state and federal law from possessing or using a firearm because of an involuntary commitment stemming from what court documents described as an "emotionally devastating" divorce, where Keyes is alleged to have been "imbibing in alcoholic beverages and making suicidal statements."

Pennsylvania state law prohibits anyone who has been involuntarily committed from possessing or using a firearm, and federal law prohibits anyone who had been committed to a mental institution from owning a gun. Nevertheless, the laws did not prevent Keyes from employment in law enforcement. In fact, the federal statute "provides an exception to the firearms disability created by [federal law] …for individuals benefitting in their official capacities the federal or state government."

The judge's ruling notes Keyes carries a handgun while on duty and a fully automatic rifle and shotgun while on patrol. In 2008 Keyes sought in state court to get his rights back, and was relieved of his state "firearms disability." Keyes also filed a request to get his involuntary commitment expunged, but the Superior Court eventually ruled state courts did not have such an authority.

Keyes' lawsuit was eventually joined by Jonathon Yox, who discovered in 2012 after failing an instant background check that he too could not legally possess a firearm. Yox, who had become a state correctional officer, was involuntarily committed as a 15-year-old because he was, as the court described, "emotionally devastated" by his parents' divorce. He was reported to have cut himself "under the influence" of his girlfriend and made a suicide pact with her. In 2008, at the age of 17, Yox enlisted in the U.S. Army end spent six and a half months in Afghanistan where, the court notes, he used fully automatic rifles, machine guns, explosives, and grenade launchers. The army did not recommend psychological evaluations for Yox after his honorable discharge.

A state court granted him relief from the state "firearms disability" as well, but based on the previous Keyes ruling declined to expunge his record. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the court notes, "confirmed" that Yox was prohibited from private possession or use of a firearm but could continue to work as an armed state corrections officer.

A federal court eventually ruled that the Superior Court in Keyes used the wrong standard, going with a test from the case U.S. v Marzzarella, which found a law requiring legally possessed firearms to have serial numbers did not infringe on the Second Amendment and established a test on whether "the challenged law imposes a burden on conduct falling within the scope of the Second Amendment's guarantee… [and if so] whether that law survives a means-end scrutiny." The federal court decided a better fit would be U.S. v. Barton, which upheld a law prohibiting felons from possessing firearms and set a test about establishing distinguishing circumstances in the face of a prohibition, and based on that precedent granted Yox relief.

That triggered Keyes' attorneys to file a new motion. Judge Jones decided the only substantive difference between the two cases is that Keyes claimed his Second Amendment rights in a state court first, and that that should not bar him from claiming the rights in federal court, calling Keyes, "quite literally, a man without a remedy."

The judge also noted that "because Congress has not funded and Pennsylvania has not established a mechanism to petition for relief from federal firearm disabilities, both were left without recourse to challenge their loss of private gun rights under federal law."

The federal law seems to go about gun control precisely in the opposite way than the Second Amendment would suggest. Those employed by federal, state, and local governments to bear arms in the enforcement of the laws should be held to higher standards than private citizens who are guaranteed that right by the Constitution.

Keyes and Yox should not be impeded from exercising their Second Amendment rights because of involuntary commitments which (as they argue) didn't afford them due process. Their predicament is an illustration of just how damaging to civil rights laws which impose restrictions based on overly-broad but feel-good measures can be. On the other hand, employment as an armed agent of the state is not a right articulated in the federal Constitution nor any state constitutions. The state, then, ought to exercise gun control over those it privileges with guns in a professional capacity, not grant such privileged individuals exceptions to the control laws it imposes on the rest of us.

Related: The Truth About Mental Illness and Guns

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  1. I was beginning to wonder if we were going to get another post before the lynx. I demand a government agency be created and funded to the tune of 50 million dollars to monitor the appropriate spacing of blog posts.

    1. Make the 1%ers pay their fair share!!

    2. To be fair, the last post was a very special one. You can’t just follow up a post about food trucks discriminating against gays. No Hit and Run post can follow or top that. That is peak Reason.

      They just had to kind of let things settle a bit before putting up another. Let Elvis leave the building so to speak.

      1. You missed Dalmia’s post John. It is yuuuge.

        1. I did miss it. Now I am afraid to look. My blood pressure can’t handle it.

          1. The trick is to just read the click bait headline then skip to the comments and commence to hate posting.

          2. Here. I guess someone boned up the posting because there’s also what looks like H&R-type post just below.

            Or new SOP on Dalmia articles is to spend two hours researching to see if she’s ranting about satire again.

            1. As Shika goes that one isn’t too bad. She is right that big national programs never turn out to be worth it. Her concern trolling about the poor Republican party being soiled by Trump is pretty rich.

          1. My bad, it is on the homepage right underneath this one.

            1. Pfft. Homepage. Shyeah, right.

              1. /blog isnt the homepage?
                Huh.

  2. “Pennsylvania state law prohibits anyone who has been involuntarily committed from possessing or using a firearm, and federal law prohibits anyone who had been committed to a mental institution from owning a gun. Nevertheless, the laws did not prevent Keyes from employment in law enforcement.”

    Solution to the killer cops problem: Involuntarily commit each and every law enforcement officer, let them right back out, then reinstate them in the force, sans firearms.

    Problem solved!

    1. Your solution to the problem is to literally put the loonies in charge of the loony bin?

      As long as the batons are foam padded too, I’m in!

  3. Isn’t keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill one of those “reasonable restrictions” CATO seems to love these days?

    This case show you why none of these sorts of things will ever be administered in a reasonable way or not be used as an excuse to engage in the wholesale violation of people’s 2nd Amendment Rights. And it should never be forgotten that no gun law ever kept a determined criminal or psychotic from getting a gun. Gun controlers constantly claim these restrictions are necessary but are never able to give any examples where they did any good.

    1. The only suggestions I can find from Cato regarding mental illness are government funding of mental health research. Do you find any indications that they are in favor of restricting guns based on mental illness?

      1. I was being snarky. But these sorts of restriction are exactly the kind of thing that CATO is talking about compromising on. They say in the infamous Levy piece

        . Second Amendment rights are not absolute. Everyone understands that children can’t carry automatic weapons to school. Some people, some weapons, and some circumstances are subject to regulation.

        What is more reasonable than regulating guns in the hands of the mentally unstable?

        Then there is this

        Despite those doubts, even staunch Second Amendment proponents might be receptive to background checks for private (non-dealer) sales at gun shows, over the Internet, and through published ads. The key is quid pro quo ? concessions to gun rights advocates in return for closing the “gun show loophole.” That was essentially the deal offered by the 2013 Manchin-Toomey bill, which garnered 54 Senate votes, but not enough to meet the 60-vote threshold.

        If the background check shows that the person is mentally ill, shouldn’t they be denied?

        That is where this kind of shit always leads.

        1. Everyone understands that children can’t carry automatic weapons to school.

          What a dishonest piece of crap, trotting this out as support for regulation of the rights of adults.

          ProTip: Children don’t have many of the rights that adults have. On account of they are children. Howabout this:

          “Everyone understands that children can’t vote in elections, so voting rights are not absolute. Some people, some elections, and some circumstances are subject to regulation.”

  4. How come nobody every murders anybody with a bear trap? I see that shit in movies all the time, but never in real life.

    1. What do you mean “nobody”?

      1. You…uh, have something to tell us, HM?

    2. Do you know how hard those thing are to set? And then the guy ends up chewing his leg off and getting to the hospital half the time. Trust me, it is not as easy as the movies make it out to be. .

      And lets not even talk about how hard it is to bury a victim in your crawl space. That is another thing the movies just gloss over.

      1. Preeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!

      2. Do you know how hard those thing are to set? And then the guy ends up chewing his leg off and getting to the hospital half the time.

        Only one bear trap to murder someone with for self-defense? Now there’s your problem. Get the traps that are easier to set, with the thing that goes up… fuggedaboutit.

        1. +1 Assault trap

        2. Assault bear traps and those with a high bear capacity are banned in my state.

    3. Jesse is too expensive for the hit.

  5. California always excludes active and retired LE from their stupid gun laws.

    I don’t know how the court ignored US v. Bean which found that justice delayed for eternity was not justice denied.

  6. Man, this is how you do a test case. A plaintiff who is allowed/required to carry a gun in his cop job, but is prohibited from owning a gun in his capacity as a citizen. Beautiful.

    1. It really is. The other interesting angle to this story is how Police Unions have apparently exempted themselves from federal gun laws. I am sure you are familiar with the infamous Lautenberg Amendment that deprives anyone convicted of “domestic violence” of their 2nd Amendment Rights. That law is applied to the military with a vengeance. Anyone with a domestic violence conviction can’t carry a gun, even in combat or on a military rifle range and is immediately put out of the military. I have never seen it, but they would be put out under this law as well.

      Yet, judging from this case, cops apparently are not. Consider that for a moment.

    2. “Off the clock, a danger to himself and others. But on the clock, he becomes Reasonable Man, with all the duties and privileges of the demigods known to us by the name of Cop.”

      1. Remember, they kick people out of the military and ruin many careers over this kind of stuff, even though military weapons are under extremely tight restrictions and are only issued or used in the field or at the range. Meanwhile cops, who are issues weapons and ammo to carry at all time 24/7 are exempt.

        Yeah, that makes sense.

    3. IIRC, Heller from Heller v DC was a “special police officer,” i.e. rent-a-cop who was permitted to carry a handgun while on duty.

  7. Judge John Jones

    Can you really trust a judge on steroids?

    1. 3DJ does what he wants.

  8. The federal law seems to go about gun control precisely in the opposite way than the Second Amendment would suggest. Those employed by federal, state, and local governments to bear arms in the enforcement of the laws should be held to higher standards than private citizens who are guaranteed that right by the Constitution.

    Just because you can’t enjoy your constitutional protections to the fullest, why must you harsh on the special class of citizen fighting to get theirs?

  9. “Alright, only police can continue to own weapons of they are mentally ill or committed “

  10. I’m looking at this from the other direction. Why in the FUCK would we allow a person who’s been involuntarily committed to be a cop? No wonder there are so many problems with police.

    Occasionally, nothing else serves the needs of the moment like a string of curse words.

    1. Apparently he got better. But if you want to make it a life time ban, that wouldn’t have any deterrent effect would it?

  11. Pennsylvania, like California, has a very exhaustive list of things that can permanently prohibit a person from owning gun and/or getting a concealed weapon permit. Even things like unlawful possession of a firearm as a juvenile, along with various drug offenses, various misdemeanors, etc., so I can’t say I’m surprised that PA would use a 15 year old’s mental breakdown against them well into their adult years.

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