Pennsylvania court sides with man in 4-year fight for license to carry

A Commonwealth Court this week handed down a victory for a man who authorities argued shouldn’t have a gun license over old mental health records that no one could produce.

The three-judge panel held in a memorandum released Monday that Richard Brandon was improperly denied a license to carry a firearm by the Pennsylvania State Police over mental health history poorly documented in the Pennsylvania Instant Check System. In short, the state was not able to prove that he had ever been involuntarily committed.

In 2013, Brandon applied to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office for a license to carry but was turned down after PICS reported that he had been previously committed under Section 302 of the state code. State police held that, according to their forms, Brandon was involuntarily committed in 1987 and again in 1994, which he denied.

In the first incident, Brandon was sent to a medical facility for treatment after allegedly threatening his roommate with a rifle. In the 1994 encounter, the state told the court Brandon was in a motorcycle accident while riding with a shotgun strapped to his back and suffered third-degree burns which he would not let a doctor treat. While Brandon did not contest that the events occurred, he held fast that neither resulted in an involuntary commitment.

State Police did not have copies of the original notices from mental health authorities in their records and Butler County’s mental health department did not have any Section 302 petitions for Brandon in their files. Hospital records for the visits were no longer available and state law requires that medical records only be preserved for seven years.

Brandon’s attorney, Joshua Prince, could point out inconsistencies in even the limited records the state presented, noting that one form showed him admitted to a different hospital. He further pointed out that the FBI, as far back as 2001, had chastised PSP for denying licenses to individuals in cases where they did not have sufficient information to decide.

In finding for Brandon, the court held that a 1987 police report submitted by the state in their case was hearsay as it “merely states that Brandon was placed in the psychiatric unit without specifying whether this was a voluntary or involuntary commitment.” In the end, the court agreed with an earlier determination by an administrative law judge that the PICs records “were not corroborated by any underlying hospital or court records.”

Prince told he was pleased the court followed the law in Brandon’s case, and that the decision was clear cut.

“There was no 302 Petition, which is where a physician would issue the certification that inpatient case was necessary or that the person was committable,” he said. “Moreover, there was no known physician who even performed any form of evaluation. Therefore, the PSP could not establish the statutory requirements.”

Prince currently has the 302 commitment statute in federal court in a separate challenge, arguing it violates due process “since it putatively strips an individual of his/her Second Amendment rights in the absence of a right to counsel, right to confront witnesses and challenge evidence and fails to provide any form of hearing before a neutral arbiter.”

He hopes to have a decision in that case later this year.

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