Army veteran wins battle with government to own a gun
JERSEY SHORE — Groundhogs beware: Victor W. Welshans soon will be taking aim at you.
The 62-year-old Jersey Shore area resident who spent 26 years in the military has had his right to possess a rifle restored.
Despite being armed while in the Army, Welshans was told in 2015 when he tried to buy a rifle that he was not permitted to own a gun, due to a 1999 mental health incident.
He sued Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray in U.S. Middle District Court but the outcome look bleak.
A June order by Judge Matthew W. Brann put the onus on Welshans to show why the government’s motion for summary judgment should not be granted.
But on Monday, notice was filed in court that the lawsuit was dismissed and the parties agreed Welshans could own a firearm.
The feds previously had not recognized the restoration order, issued in December 2016 by Lycoming County Judge Dudley N. Anderson, that applied just to Pennsylvania.
Learning he had won his years-long battle “was very shocking to me,” Welshans said.
“Our prayers were answered,” his wife Florence said she screamed. Then she added: “We’re not believing it until I talk with Bob.”
Bob is their attorney, Robert B. Elion, who explained the federal government changed its regulations so it could accept Anderson’s order.
As soon as he and his wife return from a cruise, Welshans said he will buy a small caliber rifle to go after the groundhogs that dig up the 38 acres he owns but no longer farms.
Welshans said he cannot understand why he could be armed to protect his country as a soldier, but couldn’t bear arms as a civilian.
“We didn’t think it was right from day 1,” his wife said. He spent 26 years on active duty and in the reserves, including a tour in Iraq where he received a commendation medal.
The prohibition stemmed from a mental health incident in 1999 his wife said was misunderstood and blown out of proportion.
Her husband was depressed and, out of concern, she called her therapist when she could not find the guns he owned at that time, she said. She located the guns but by the time she called the therapist back, others had been notified to look for him, she said.
Welshans ended up at Lock Haven Hospital and then in the mental unit at Divine Providence Hospital in Williamsport. He maintained it was a voluntary commitment that lasted three days but it was recorded as involuntary.
The involuntary commitment is what that triggered the prohibition on weapons.
Welshans points out that the treating physician said in his discharge summary that “his condition is well enough for military duty in the reserves” and there are “no signs of danger to himself or others.”
In his fight to have his gun rights restored, Welshans, who retired after 33 years with the Postal Service, voluntarily underwent a psychiatric evaluation in 2016.
He was found to be neither a danger to himself nor others and did not require treatment.
Despite that, government attorneys claimed the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to possess a firearm and his situation was not distinguishable from others historically barred from possessing weapons.
Firearm Owners Against Crime, a political action committee, filed a friend of the court brief in court supporting Welshans in his legal battle.
In addition to shooting at ground hogs, being permitted to own a gun will allow Welshans to participate in military honor guard ceremonies in which weapons are discharged.