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.
Maine requires courts to transmit to the Department of Public Safety, State Bureau of Identification an abstract of any order for involuntary commitment issued by the court. The abstract must include:
- The person’s name, date of birth and gender;
- The court’s ruling that the person has been involuntarily committed by a court after a hearing because the person was found to present a “likelihood of serious harm” (as Maine law defines the phrase); and
- A notation that the person has been notified by the court about the firearm prohibition.3
The Bureau also must report to NICS as soon as it receives any abstract from a court finding that a person has been:
- Committed involuntarily to a hospital pursuant to an order of the District Court after a hearing;
- Found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity with respect to a criminal charge; or
- Found not competent to stand trial with respect to a criminal charge.4
The abstract is confidential and not a public record; however, a copy of the abstract may also be provided by the Bureau to a criminal justice agency for legitimate law enforcement purposes or to an issuing authority for the purpose of processing concealed handgun permit applications.5
Note that these reporting requirements only apply if the person was judicially committed after a hearing (and is therefore subject to the Maine prohibition against firearm possession)6. Maine does not require the reporting of individuals who have been committed through emergency procedures, but who have not yet been granted a hearing.7
Restoration of Firearm Rights for the Mentally Ill: Maine law allows a person subject to the federal prohibition against firearm possession as a result of being committed pursuant to Maine’s emergency procedures (but who is not subject to the Maine prohibition against firearm possession by persons judicially committed after a hearing) to, after the expiration of five years from the date of final discharge, apply to the Commissioner of Public Safety for relief from the disability.8 The burden of proof is on the applicant to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the circumstances that led to the involuntary commitment have changed, that the applicant is not likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety, and that granting the application for relief will not be contrary to the public interest.9
In addition, in 2019 Maine established a procedure by which firearm restrictions can be imposed upon a person taken into protective custody. Under this law, when an individual is taken into protective custody, a medical practitioner shall assess whether the individual presents “a likelihood of foreseeable harm.”10 That assessment is then provided to law enforcement, and, if endorsed by a judge, results in a temporary restriction that prevents the individual from possessing or acquiring a firearm.11 A judicial hearing on the restriction must be held within 14 days, and will terminate unless the court finds “clear and convincing evidence to continue or extend the” restrictions.12).
For general information on the background check process and standards regarding eligibility to purchase or possess firearms, see the Maine Background Check Procedures and Firearm Prohibitions sections.
Other duties of mental health professionals: Mental health professionals are generally required to notify law enforcement if they have reason to believe a person committed to a mental institution has access to firearms13. Additionally, mental health facilities, upon discharge of a patient, are required to make inquiries and documentation of those inquiries into access by the patient to firearms and to notify the patient, the patient’s family and any other caregivers that possession, ownership or control of a firearm by the person to be discharged is prohibited by Maine law14.
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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.
- Me. Stat., 34-B, § 3864(12).
- Me. Stat., 25 § 1541(3)(C).
- Me. Stat., 34-B, § 3864(12); Me. Stat., 25 § 1541(3)(C).
- See Me. Stat., 15, § 393(4-A).
- Me. Stat., 15 § 393(4-A). The application must be accompanied by a report from an independent licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. The Commissioner must notify, and request relevant information from, local law enforcement. Id.
- Id. According to a Maine government website, Maine’s process under this statute was disapproved by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in letter of December 28, 2009, stating that Maine’s relief process will not end the federal prohibition from firearms possession. See Office of Adult Mental Health Services, Maine Dept. of Health and Human Services, Firearms and Psychiatric Hospitalization Laws Applicable in Maine (March 10, 2010), at https://maine.gov/dhhs/mh/rights-legal/firearms-laws.shtml.
- 34-B MSRA § 3862-A(2).
- Id. § 3862-A(3-5).
- (Id. § 3862-A(6
- Me. Stat., 34-B § 1207(8).
- Me. Stat., 34-B § 3871(7).