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.
Missouri law authorizes, but does not require, the Missouri State Highway Patrol to submit mental health records to the NICS database. In Missouri, all records required to be closed – that is, confidential – are generally inaccessible to the public.3 However, records and files concerning court proceedings for mental health and psychiatric issues are “available” to the Missouri State Highway Patrol for reporting to the FBI for inclusion in NICS.4
When a criminal defendant is acquitted on the ground of “mental disease or defect excluding culpability,” the judgment must state that fact along with the offense for which the defendant was acquitted.5 The clerk of court must furnish a copy of any judgment, or order of commitment to the Missouri Department of Mental Health, to the criminal records central repository.6
Missouri has also enacted a restoration of rights procedure by which a person who has been adjudged incapacitated or involuntarily committed, or who is otherwise subject to federal law’s mental health related firearm prohibitions as a result of an adjudication or commitment that occurred in Missouri, may petition for the removal of the disqualification to possess a firearm.7 The petition shall be filed in the circuit court with jurisdiction in the petitioner’s place of residence, or which entered the letters of guardianship, most recent order for involuntary commitment, or most recent disqualifying order, whichever is later.8 Upon receipt of the petition, the clerk shall schedule a hearing and provide notice of the hearing to the petitioner.9 The court is required to grant the petition if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the petitioner will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety; and (2) granting the relief is not contrary to the public interest.10 In order to determine whether to grant the petition, the court may request the local prosecuting attorney, circuit attorney, or attorney general to provide a written recommendation as to whether the petition should be granted.11 If the petition is granted, the court clerk must forward the order to the Missouri State Highway Patrol for updating of the petitioner’s record with NICS.12 The Highway Patrol must then contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation to effect this updating within 21 days of receiving the order.13 In the event that the petition is denied, the petitioner may appeal such denial after the expiration of one year from the date of such denial, and the review shall be de novo.14
For general information on the background check process and categories of prohibited purchasers or possessors, see the Missouri Background Checks and Missouri Prohibited Purchasers Generally sections.
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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.
- Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.120.1.
- Mo. Rev. Stat. § 630.140.5.
- Mo. Rev. Stat. § 552.030.7.
- Id. See Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 43.503.6-7.
- Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.092.
- Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.092.2).
- Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.092.3.
- Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.092.4.
- Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.092.7.
- Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 571.092.8-9.