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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.

When a Minnesota court: 1) commits a person under state law as being mentally ill, developmentally disabled, mentally ill and dangerous, or chemically dependent; 2) determines in a criminal case that a person is incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental illness; or 3) restores a person’s ability to possess a firearm under state law, the court must ensure that this information is electronically transmitted within three business days to NICS.3

When a court commits a patient to a treatment program or facility other than a state-operated program or facility, the court shall report the commitment to the Commissioner through the supreme court information system for purposes of providing commitment information for firearm background checks.4

The Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services receives a copy of any commitment order through the state’s supreme court information system whenever a patient is committed to a state-operated mental health facility, or to a treatment program or facility other than a state-operated program or facility. The Commissioner must provide commitment information to local law enforcement agencies by means of electronic data transfer through the Minnesota Crime Information System when individually requested for the sole purpose of facilitating a background check for purchasers of handguns or assault weapons.5 A person seeking a transferee permit to purchase a handgun or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon must authorize the release of mental health information for this purpose.6

For general information on the background check process and categories of prohibited purchasers or possessors, see Background Checks in Minnesota  and Firearm Prohibitions in Minnesota.

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  1. 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.[]
  2. 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.[]
  3. Minn. Stat. § 253B.24.[]
  4. Minn. Stat. § 253B.09, subd. 3a.[]
  5. Minn. Stat. § 245.041.[]
  6. Minn. Stat. § 624.7131, subd. 1(3). See also Minn. Stat. § 624.7132, subd. 1(3) for a seller’s duty to report to law enforcement the release of mental health information by a prospective purchaser of a handgun or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon.[]