By Patrick Bailey, guest contributor. March 13, 2020
When it comes to understanding mental illness treatment and firearms, there is an interesting take. States and federal laws stipulate whether or not someone who is diagnosed with a mental disorder or in a treatment facility can also have a registered firearm. In most instances, there are restrictions against having firearms if you are actively in treatment. However, there is not a blanket ruling on the matter. Learn more about the issues that arise when it comes to handling firearm possession and mental health treatment.
About Mental Illness and Firearm Possession
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the “possession of a firearm by the mentally ill is regulated by both state and federal laws.” This is the latest update as of January 5, 2018, and follows up with each of the state-specific mandates involving firearm possession for this demographic. Learn more about some of these state laws and how to find your own state law about mental illness treatment and firearm possession.
The overriding law implementation in the land is federal law. When there is a federal law in place, as there is with regard to possession of a firearm by the mentally ill, states must go by the federal law first. However, from there the state has some statute of limitations that it can set into place. You are responsible as a person possessing firearms now or in the future, as well as someone in mental illness treatment, for knowing the state laws in your home state.
As for the federal law, that is registered under 18 US Code 922 Unlawful Acts:
• “(d) It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person:
• (4) has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution”
Therefore, by federal law, anyone institutionalized is not able to buy a firearm because people are not allowed to sell it to them.
To find your specific state law regarding how to obtain a firearm if you are mentally ill, search the NCSL database. A few states do not have individual laws regarding firearms and mental health. These include:
• New Hampshire
This means that in those states you are responsible for following federal law and nothing more. Other states including Washington, Texas, Massachusetts, California, and the District of Columbia (DC) are more elaborate in their laws. Take a look at the District of Columbia, home to the nation’s White House. Here you can get a firearm if you have been in mental health and/or subtance abuse treatment with certain stipulations. In Washington, DC, you are able to get a firearm after a five-year period without any criminal charges of insanity or ruling as a chronic alcoholic.
For others like Alabama, the legal limitations are more cut and dry. The Ala. Code 1975 § 13A-11-72 on “Certain Persons Forbidden to Possess Pistol” states, “No person of unsound mind shall own a firearm or have one in his or her possession or under his or her control.”
Then you have Hawaii that goes a step further to state that anyone who is or has been diagnosed for treatment for organic brain syndromes and this includes Alzheimer’s, which is considered a brain disorder rather than a mental illness. Therefore, you can see where consumers might be confused about whether or not they actually have a mental illness that is being treated–especially when related to gun control.
Federal law states that no one in any US state is allowed to sell firearms to individuals who are thought to be mentally ill or from a mental institution. However, finding out whether the person is actually mentally ill or in treatment at the time is a challenge. This is where state law steps in to determine how to measure whether a person is indeed mentally capable of carrying a firearm. The problem is that most people aren’t thinking about whether they’ll be able to purchase a pistol in the future when they are getting treated for depression or Alzheimer’s. For some, this may cross the line of the Second Amendment.