Court finds short mental health treatment doesn’t end gun rights

A federal court last week held that an involuntary emergency treatment of a Pennsylvania man for less than 24 hours did not trigger a lifetime ban on firearms.

Deciding in the case of Alton Franklin, the U.S. District Court held that his brief history of mental illness reported by the state did not square against federal gun prohibitions on those who have been committed to a mental institution.

According to court documents, in 2002 Franklin appeared at his local police station “needing to talk to someone” in the aftermath of a recent break-up with 20 lacerations on his arms he said he picked up as part of a drinking game with a friend. The officer he spoke to felt that Franklin posed a danger to himself or others and a county official completed a warrant that the man be involuntarily admitted to a mental health facility for up to 120 hours. However, Franklin only remained hospitalized for less than 24 hours before he was released.

Since then, he has not been the subject of a mental health order and went on to complete a bachelor’s degree, earn a paralegal certification and work as a corrections officer for the state of Kentucky. Nonetheless, in 2013 he was advised that he was a prohibited firearms possessor with an active file in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, stripping him of his gun rights, due to the time he spent in the hospital more than a decade previously.

Challenging the Pennsylvania record in a county court in 2015, a judge found in his favor, noting that he “no longer suffers from the mental health condition that was the basis of the original civil commitment,” and ordered his firearms rights under state law restored. Nonetheless, the ATF maintained Franklin was still prohibited from possessing firearms under the federal statute even while the state said he wasn’t. To this, the federal court took exception last week, saying he was never “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution” as it applied to federal law.

“The decision to submit Mr. Franklin to a 120-hour involuntary mental health examination was made by a police officer, an unspecified officer in the county administrator’s office, and a physician– not a court, board, or commission,” said U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson in his decision, enjoining the government from using the 2002 involuntary emergency treatment against him.

Attorney Joshua Prince, who represented Frankin, called the case a “monumental decision.”

In speaking with The Legal Intelligencer, Prince said the ruling speaks to the constitutionality of stripping a person of their gun rights without due process, and “now sets the foundation for challenging Pennsylvania’s state prohibition on those very grounds.”