Federal law generally prohibits possession of firearms and ammunition by people who have been found by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others, or to “lack the mental capacity to contract or manage [their] own affairs,” as a result of their mental condition or illness.1 Federal law also generally prohibits people from possessing firearms if they have been involuntarily hospitalized or committed to a mental health or substance abuse treatment facility by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority.2
No federal law, however, requires states to report the identities of these individuals when they become ineligible to possess firearms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database, which the FBI uses to perform background checks prior to firearm transfers. As a result, state record reporting laws are critical to ensuring the accuracy and effectiveness of the background check system.
In 2014, Arizona enacted a law requiring courts to transmit information to the Supreme Court of Arizona, which must transmit it to the Department of Public Safety (DPS), which must transmit it to NICS, whenever the court:
- Finds a person incompetent, or subsequently competent, or guilty except insane;
- Appoints a guardian for an adult, except when the appointment of a guardian is due solely to the person’s physical incapacity;
- Terminates a guardianship; or
- Finds a person to constitute a danger to self or others or to be persistently or acutely disabled or gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder, and the court enters an order for inpatient or outpatient treatment.3
A 2011 Arizona law requires reporting to NICS when a formerly mentally ill person’s eligibility to possess firearms is restored. If a court grants a petition restoring a person’s eligibility to possess firearms, the court must promptly notify the Supreme Court of Arizona and DPS. As soon thereafter as practicable, DPS must update, correct, modify or remove the person’s record in any database that DPS “maintains and makes available to [NICS] consistent with the rules pertaining to the database.” Moreover, within ten business days after receiving the notification from the court, DPS must notify the United States Attorney General that the person no longer falls within the provisions of Arizona and federal law prohibiting possession of firearms.4
For general information on the background check process and categories of prohibited purchasers or possessors, see the Background Checks in Arizona section and the section entitled Prohibited Purchasers Generally in Arizona.
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- Federal law, enacted in 1968, still uses archaic and offensive terminology to prohibit firearm access by people who have been “adjudicated as a mental defective.” 18 USC 922(g)(4). Federal regulations define that term to mean:
(a) A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease
(1) Is a danger to himself or to others; or
(2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.Federal regulation also expressly clarifies that this firearm prohibition applies to:
(1) A finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case; and
(2) Those persons found incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to [specified articles] of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 27 CFR § 478.11.
- Federal law generally prohibits firearm access by people who have previously been “committed to a mental institution.” 18 USC 922(g)(4). Federal regulations define this term to mean: “A formal commitment of a person to a mental institution by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority. The term includes a commitment to a mental institution involuntarily. The term includes commitment for mental defectiveness or mental illness. It also includes commitments for other reasons, such as for drug use. The term does not include a person in a mental institution for observation or a voluntary admission to a mental institution.” 27 C.F.R. § 478.11.
- 2014 AZ H.B. 2322, codified as Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-609.
- Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-925(h).