Fort Worth Appeals Court Ignores Mental Health History, Orders Grant of CHL

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On Thursday, the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to renew the concealed handgun license (CHL) of a woman with a history of mental illness, and used federal law to do it.

DPS had previously denied the petitioner's application to renew her CHL because federal law disqualified her from purchasing a firearm and was, therefore, not eligible to have her Texas CHL renewed.

In July 2008, a Howard County, Texas, court had adjudicated the petitioner to be mentally ill and a threat to herself.  She was institutionalized, underwent treatment, and later applied to DPS to renew her CHL. DPS denied her application to renew, and the petitioner sued.  

After losing at the trial court, DPS only presented one issue on appeal – that the evidence was legally insufficient to show that the petitioner was qualified under state and federal law to purchase a firearm.

To see why the Fort Worth court ignored the petitioner's history of mental illness, read below the jump.  DPS argued that a letter from the petitioner's doctor was insufficient to qualify her for a CHL; the petitioner responded that her discharge from a mental health facility was the equivalent of having never been committed, and that, therefore, she was qualified under federal law to own a firearm.


Texas law does set requirements for obtaining and renewing a CHL, including a ban on anyone who is not capable of exercising sound judgment with respect to the property use and storage of a handgun, and anyone who is not fully qualified under applicable federal and state law to purchase a handgun.

DPS argued that the petitioner was ineligible for a CHL because her previous mental health adjudication meant that she was not fully qualified under applicable federal law to purchase a handgun.  Federal law states that a person adjudicated “as a mental defective” may not “possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition” or “receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.” See 18 USC §922(g)(4).  The petitioner's history put her within the definition of someone who had been ruled as a “mental defective” under federal law.


The petitioner argued that 2007 amendments to that federal law negated the provision that rendered her as a “mental defective,” and that for procedural purposes of the DPS and the CHL, it was if her commitment to a psychiatric ward had never happened.  The petitioner also argued that she did not have a history of mental illness, but rather “most likely” suffered from an autoimmune seizure disorder.

The Fort Worth appeals court agreed with this interpretation and agreed that the letter from the petitioner's doctor was sufficient evidence to show that she qualified for a CHL under Texas law.  Despite DPS' protest that there is already a process to show that a person with a history of mental illness is eligible for a CHL, the court disregarded this and ordered DPS to issue a CHL to the petitioner.

The case is Texas Department of Public Safety v. Randolph, 02-13-00025-CV.


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