DETROIT — A Michigan man who can’t buy a gun because he was briefly treated for mental health problems in the 1980s has won a key decision from a federal appeals court, which says the burden is on the government to justify a lifetime ban against him.

The Second Amendment case was significant enough for 16 judges on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to participate. Cases usually are heard only by three-judge panels.

Clifford Tyler, 74, of Hillsdale said his constitutional right to bear arms is violated by a federal law that prohibits gun ownership if someone has been admitted to a mental hospital.

In 1985, Tyler’s wife ran away with another man, depleted his finances and filed for divorce. He was deeply upset, and his daughters feared he was a danger to himself.

Tyler was ordered to a hospital for at least two weeks. He subsequently recovered, continued working for another two decades and remarried in 1999.

“There is no indication of the continued risk presented by people who were involuntarily committed many years ago and who have no history of intervening mental illness, criminal activity or substance abuse,” Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote in the lead opinion.

The court on Thursday sent the case back to the federal court in Grand Rapids where the government must argue the merits of a lifetime ban or the risks of Tyler having a gun. U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist had ruled in favor of the government in 2013.

Gibbons suggests Tyler should prevail, based on his years of good mental health.

“Congress’ evidence seems to focus solely on the risk posed by those presently mentally ill and who have been recently committed,” she said.

In dissent, Judge Karen Nelson Moore said the law is constitutional.

“The government has demonstrated that (the law) is substantially related to Congress’ objectives of reducing the substantial homicide and suicide rates caused by firearms,” she said.


This version of the story corrects the short headline.


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