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 Indiana, the Office of Judicial Administration is responsible for administering an electronic system for receiving information about individuals prohibited from possessing a firearm and transmitting this information to NICS.3 A court must transmit information to the Office of Judicial Administration for transmission to NICS whenever it finds that a person is:
- “Mentally ill and either dangerous or gravely disabled” (necessitating either inpatient or outpatient treatment);4
- Not responsible for a crime by reason of insanity;5
- Guilty of a crime but mentally ill;6 or
- Not competent to understand criminal proceedings against him- or herself.7
In addition, the Department of Corrections must transmit information to the Office of Judicial Administration for transmission to NICS whenever it “involuntarily transfers” a criminal to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction.8
Lastly, the court or Department of Correction must transmit information to the Office of Judicial Administration for transmission to NICS regarding previously-committed individuals whose firearms eligibility has been restored.9
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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.
- Ind. Code § 33-24-6-3(a)(8).
- Ind. Code §§ 12-26-6-8(g), 12-26-7-5(c).
- Ind. Code § 35-36-2-4(e).
- Ind. Code § 35-36-2-5(f).
- Ind. Code § 35-36-3-1(c).
- Ind. Code § 11-10-4-3(e).
- Ind. Code § 33-23-15-2(c).