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.
South Carolina enacted a law in 2013 requiring the reporting of mental health-related information to the NICS system.3 The law mirrors federal law regarding which people are subject to firearm prohibitions. The law requires courts to transmit information about adjudications and commitments to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (“SLED”) within five days. SLED must then transmit this information to NICS. This information must otherwise remain confidential.
The 2013 law also provided one year for courts to submit retroactive information on such individuals going back a minimum of ten years or, if records are not available as far back as ten years, as far back as records exist.
Finally the law provides a process for a person who has been adjudicated or committed as described above to petition to regain his or her federal firearms eligibility.
For general information on the background check process and categories of prohibited purchasers or possessors, see the South Carolina Background Check Procedures section and the section entitled Firearm Prohibitions.
See our Mental Health Reporting policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
- 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.
- 2013 S.C. H.B. 3560.