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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.

A 2009 New Jersey law created an exception to the rule of confidentiality for inpatient records for when “disclosure is needed to comply with the data reporting provisions of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, Pub.L.110-180, and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, Pub.L.103-159.”3

More significantly, a 2013 law states:

“In compliance with the federal NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, Pub.L. 110-180 and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, Pub.L. 103-159, the Attorney General shall direct the Superintendent of the State Police to collect, in cooperation with the Administrative Office of the Courts, such data as may be required to make a determination as to whether a person is disqualified from possessing or receiving a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922 or applicable State law, and to transmit such data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”4

Any person seeking to purchase or possess a firearm in New Jersey must obtain either a permit to purchase a handgun or a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card (FPIC) following a background check, among other requirements.4 Applicants for a permit to purchase a handgun or FPIC must state:

“whether he has ever been confined or committed to a mental institution or hospital for treatment or observation of a mental or psychiatric condition on a temporary, interim or permanent basis, giving the name and location of the institution or hospital and the dates of such confinement or commitment, whether he has been attended, treated or observed by any doctor or psychiatrist or at any hospital or mental institution on an inpatient or outpatient basis for any mental or psychiatric condition, giving the name and location of the doctor, psychiatrist, hospital or institution and the dates of such occurrence…”6

The applicant must “waive any statutory or other right of confidentiality relating to institutional confinement.”5

For general information on the background check process and laws governing legal access to firearms, see the New Jersey Background Check Procedures and Firearm Prohibitions sections.

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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. N.J. Stat. § 30:4-24.3.[]
  4. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-3(c)(2), (3); N.J. Admin. Code § 13:54-1.5.[]
  5. Id.[]