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.
Under Maryland law, when a person is admitted to a state facility providing mental health treatment for 30 consecutive days or more or has been involuntarily committed to a state facility, the following information must be reported to the NICS index: 1) the name and identifying information of the person admitted or committed; 2) the date the person was admitted or committed to the facility; and 3) the name of the facility to which the person was admitted or committed.3
A Maryland court must promptly report to the NICS database: 1) the name and identifying information of an individual; and 2) the date of a specific determination or finding, if that court:
- Determines that a person is “not criminally responsible” (i.e. committed to the state Health Department);
- Finds that a person is incompetent to stand trial; or
- Finds that the person should be under protection of a guardian because he or she cannot manage his or her affairs for mental health-related reasons (except for cases in which the appointment of a guardian is solely a result of a physical disability).4
Maryland requires any facility that admits an individual with a mental disorder to submit a report to the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene within 10 days after admission.5
In addition, the Secretary of the Maryland Department of State Police (DSP) requires, as part of the application to purchase, rent or transfer a handgun or assault weapon, the applicant’s written authorization to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, “or any other similar agency or department of another state,” to disclose to DSP whether the applicant: 1) suffers from a mental disorder and has a history of violent behavior against anyone; and 2) has been confined for more than 30 consecutive days to a mental health facility.6
Courts must notify the Criminal Justice Information System Central Repository of any commitment ordered upon a determination that a defendant is incompetent to stand trial, or a determination that a person is not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder or mental retardation.7 State law is unclear as to whether this information affects firearm transfers.
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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.
- Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-133.2(c).
- Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-133.2(b).
- Md. Code Ann., Health-Gen. § 10-605(a).
- Md. Code Regs. 29.03.01.03(A)(8).
- Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §§ 3-106(h), 3-112(d).