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.
Washington requires that, at the time any person convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity for a crime that results in the prohibition of possession of a firearm3, or is committed by a court order for mental health treatment, the convicting or committing court must:
- Notify the person, orally and in writing, that he or she must immediately surrender any concealed pistol license and may not possess a firearm unless his or her right to do so is restored by a court of record;
- Within three days after conviction or entry of commitment order, forward a copy of the person’s driver’s license or identification card and the date of conviction or commitment to the state Department of Licensing; and
- If the person is committed by court order under Washington Rev. Code Ann. §§ 71.05.240 (involuntary or alternative treatment for 14 days), 71.05.320 (treatment for an adult for 90 or 180 days), 71.34.740 (involuntary commitment hearing for a minor), 71.34.750 (treatment a minor for 180 days) or Chapter 10.77 (treatment when found not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial), the committing court shall forward a copy of the person’s driver’s license, or comparable information, along with date of commitment, to the NICS database.4
Individuals who have been detained for a 72-hour evaluation and treatment on the grounds that the person presents a likelihood of serious harm are prohibited from possessing guns for six months after the date of detention.5 If the person is not subsequently committed for involuntary treatment under 71.05.240, the court must forward within three business days of the probable cause hearing a copy of the person’s driver’s license or identicard, or comparable information, along with the date of release from the facility, to the department of licensing and to the state patrol, who must forward the information to NICS.6
The Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) must, upon request of a court or law enforcement agency, supply such relevant information as is necessary to determine the person’s eligibility to possess or purchase a handgun or be issued a concealed pistol license.7
Information and records regarding involuntary commitments of the mentally ill may only be disclosed for specified purposes, including to law enforcement officers as necessary for the purpose of carrying out the responsibilities of their office.8 Only the fact, place and date of involuntary commitment, an official copy of any order or orders of commitment, and an official copy of any written or oral notice of ineligibility to possess a firearm shall be disclosed upon request.9 Identical provisions govern disclosure of involuntary commitments of minors.10
An application to purchase a handgun constitutes a waiver of confidentiality and a written request that the DSHS, mental health institutions, and other health care facilities release information relevant to the applicant’s eligibility to purchase a handgun to an inquiring court or law enforcement agency.11 Similarly, a signed application for a concealed pistol license constitutes a waiver of confidentiality and a written request that the DSHS, mental health institutions, and other health care facilities release information relevant to the applicant’s eligibility for a concealed pistol license to an inquiring court or law enforcement agency.12
Mental health information received by the following entities may not be disclosed except in limited instances:13
- The Department of Licensing directly from the committing court or a court finding a person not guilty by reason of insanity pursuant to Washington Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.047 ;
- The Department of Licensing pursuant to its authority to issue alien firearms licenses under Washington Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.173 ;
- An authority charged with issuing concealed pistol licenses pursuant to Washington Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.070 ;
- An authority that previously issued a concealed pistol license and receives information from the Department of Licensing that the person is no longer eligible pursuant to Washington Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.047 ;
- A chief of police or sheriff performing a background check prior to transfer of a handgun;
- A chief of police or sheriff performing a background check prior to issuance of an alien firearms license pursuant to Washington Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.173 ; or
- A court or law enforcement agency to determine the person’s eligibility to possess a handgun or be issued a concealed pistol license or to purchase a handgun under state law.14
Dispositions are reported to the identification section of the Washington State Patrol.15 Dispositions include findings of not guilty by reason of insanity, and dismissals by reason of incompetency.16
For general information on the background check process and categories of prohibited purchasers or possessors, see the Washington Background Check Procedures section and the section entitled Firearm Prohibitions.
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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.
- See Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.040 and the Washington Firearm Prohibitions section for these prohibited categories.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.047(1).
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 71.05.182.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.049.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.097(1). For information on concealed pistol licenses, see Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.070 and the Washington Concealed Weapons Permitting section.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 70.02.260.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 71.34.340(16).
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.094.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.070(4). An application for an alien firearm license also acts as a waiver of confidentiality and written request of this kind, with respect to the person’s eligibility for an alien firearm license. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.173(4).
- See Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 42.56.240(4), which prohibits public disclosure except for concealed pistol license applications and related information only to law enforcement.
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.097(2).
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 10.97.045; see also Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 43.43.745(3).
- Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 10.97.030(4).