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.
In Utah, every magistrate or court clerk responsible for court records must, within 30 days of a disposition, furnish the Criminal Investigations and Technical Services Division within the Department of Public Safety with certain records, including information pertaining to any:
- Judgment of not guilty by reason of insanity, or finding of mental incompetence to stand trial;
- Judgment of guilty but mentally ill; and
- Order of civil commitment of the mentally ill.3
Furthermore, the court in the county where a determination or finding is made must transmit a record of the determination or finding to the Bureau of Criminal Identification no later than 48 hours after the determination, if an individual is:
- Adjudicated as a mental defective. A mental defective4 is someone who is found by a district court, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease, to be:
- A danger to himself or herself or others;
- Lacking the mental capacity to contract or manage the individual’s own affairs;
- Incompetent by a court in a criminal case; or
- Incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason or lack of mental responsibility.5
- Involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
In 2019, Utah enacted a law requiring the Bureau to report those records to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) within 48-hours of receipt.6
In 2013, Utah enacted procedures for a person who is subject to state or federal law firearm prohibitions based on a commitment, finding, or adjudication that occurred in Utah to petition the district court in the county in which the commitment, finding, or adjudication occurred to remove the firearm disability.7 The petition must include, among other things, a copy of the petitioner’s criminal history report and a verified report of a mental health evaluation conducted by a licensed psychiatrist occurring within 30 days prior to the filing of the petition.8 The report must include a statement regarding:
- the nature of the commitment, finding, or adjudication that resulted in the restriction on the petitioner’s ability to purchase or possess a dangerous weapon;
- the petitioner’s previous and current mental health treatment;
- the petitioner’s previous violent behavior, if any;
- the petitioner’s current mental health medications and medication management;
- the length of time the petitioner has been stable;
- external factors that may influence the petitioner’s stability;
- the ability of the petitioner to maintain stability with or without medication; and
- whether the petitioner is dangerous to public safety.9
The court must consider (a) the facts and circumstances that resulted in the commitment, finding, or adjudication and (b) the person’s mental health and criminal history records, and (c) the person’s reputation, including the testimony of character witnesses.10 The court must then grant the relief if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that:
- the person is not a danger to the person or to others;
- the person is not likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety; and
- the requested relief would not be contrary to the public interest.11
The court shall issue an order with its findings and send a copy to the Bureau of Criminal Identification, which must, upon receiving a court order removing a person’s firearm disability, send a copy of the court order to NICS requesting removal of the person’s name from the database.12 Though the petitioner may appeal a denied petition, he or she may not petition again for relief until at least two years after the date of the court’s final order.13
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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.
- Utah Code Ann. § 53-10-208.1; see also Utah Code Ann. § 62A-15-631 (regarding involuntary civil commitments).
- Utah Code Ann. § 53-10-102(15).
- Utah Code Ann. § 53-10-208.1(2).
- Utah Code Ann. § 53-10-213(2).
- 2013 UT S.B. 80, enacting Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-532.
- Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-532(2).
- Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-532(2)(c).
- Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-532(5).
- Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-532(6).
- Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-532(7), (8).
- Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-532(9), (10).