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 2010, Idaho enacted a law that requires relevant mental health records to be sent electronically to NICS.3 A court making a determination as to an individual’s mental state must also determine whether the individual should be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms under federal law when the court does any of the following:
- Orders commitment of the individual to a mental health facility;4
- Orders that the individual submit for mental health treatment;5
- Appoints a guardian;6
- Appoints a conservator;7 or
- Finds a defendant incompetent to stand trial.8
The clerk of a court that determines that an individual should be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms under federal law must forward a copy of the relevant order to the Idaho state police, which will in turn forward it to NICS.9 The individual subject to such an order, however, may submit a petition to the magistrate division of the court that issued the order asking to be removed from the NICS database.10 The petition will be granted if evidence reveals that the petitioner is not likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety or contrary to public interest.11 Whenever the court grants a petition for relief, the court’s clerk must immediately forward a copy of the order to the Idaho state police, which will in turn forward it to NICS for removal from the database.12
The following records are generally exempt from disclosure, except “to the extent that such records or information contained in those records are necessary for a background check on an individual that is required by federal law regulating the sale of firearms, guns or ammunition:”
- Records contained in court files of judicial proceedings, the disclosure of which is prohibited by or under rules adopted by the Idaho Supreme Court;
- Records related to the provision of statutory services to the mentally handicapped;
- Records of hospital care;
- Medical records;
- Records of psychiatric care or treatment; and
- Professional counseling records.13
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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.
- Idaho Code Ann. §§ 67-3003(1)(i), 66-356.
- See Idaho Code Ann. § 66-329.
- See Idaho Code Ann. § 66-406.
- See Idaho Code Ann. §§ 66-322, 15-5-304, 15-5-407
- See Idaho Code Ann. §§ 15-5-407(b), 15-5-407.
- Idaho Code Ann. § 66-356(1); see also Idaho Code Ann. § 16-212; 18 U.S.C. § 922 (d)(4), (g)(4).
- Idaho Code Ann. § 66-356.
- Idaho Code Ann. § 66-356.
- Idaho Code §§ 66-356(3), 67-3003(1)(i).
- Idaho Code Ann. §§ 9-340A(2), 9-340C(6), (13).