1

Seven years ago, I was involuntarily committed by court order for a mental health issue. However, it was a one-time occurrence, I have not been hospitalized since, and I've made a full recovery. Can I legally purchase a firearm? The following sources give conflicting information. According to this article, you are only disqualified if you are currently under any court order for involuntary treatment. Therefore, at least according to this information, I should be able to pass a background check.

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2019/08/05/michigan-gun-control-ohio-texas-shootings/1919891001/

"State and federal laws bar certain other people of legal age from legally buying handguns, including anyone not a citizen or legal resident, anyone under a court order of involuntary mental health treatment or deemed legally incapacitated under state law, and anyone subject to a domestic personal protection order under state law."

However, according to 18 USC 922 (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."

I hope that a few mistakes in my twenties don't permanently disqualify me from owning a gun, and I wish federal law didn't treat all mental health commitments the same. But there is no requirement for states to report their involuntary commitments to NICS. If I do fail a background check, do any states allow you to appeal the decision by providing a letter from a psychiatrist stating that you no longer suffer from a mental health condition?

  • What state is this for? – Andy Mar 21 at 1:13
  • Michigan. But I’m not sure it matters. Federal law prohibits me from owning a gun, but there is no requirement for states to report their involuntary commitments to NICS. In other words, if Michigan didn’t report my commitment, I should be good. It’s demoralizing to think about because I know I’m not a danger to myself or others. I think federal law should be updated to take into account extended durations without hospitalization and expert medical opinion. Right now, it’s a one size fits all law. – user27343 Mar 21 at 5:12
  • At a guess, this might be an issue of the law being written in terms of mental health standards from "a while back" that haven't caught up with the ever expanding definition of mental health issues. -- If "mental heath issues" in the 30s only included "raving lunatic" then a permanent bar would be reasonable. If it now include "I needed to take a day off work for my mental health" then it no longer is. Calling those things the same thing is a problem the law might not have addressed yet. – BCS Mar 22 at 20:40
  • The fact that it's Michigan does matter: whether a state has a federally approved program for relief from § 922(g)(4) is what determines how permanent the ban is in practice. So I added the Michigan tag. – Pat W. Mar 28 at 15:03
1

tl;dr

In isolation, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) appears to operate as a permanent ban, though affected persons may seek permits and appeal a subsequent denial.

Background

18 U.S.C. § 922(d) is the law on sales:

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[.]

18 U.S.C. § 922(g) is the law on possession:

It shall be unlawful for any person ... (4) who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution ... to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.

The wording of the laws is past tense—any person who "has been" committed—meaning that there's a strong textual case for a lifetime ban. While not binding, the Supreme Court seems to agree:

A person adjudicated as a mental defective may later be adjudged competent, and a person committed to a mental institution later may be deemed cured and released. Yet Congress made no exception for subsequent curative events. The past adjudication or commitment disqualifies. Congress obviously felt that such a person, though unfortunate, was too much of a risk to be allowed firearms privileges.

Dickerson v. New Banner Inst., 460 U.S. 103, 116 (1983) (not binding because the case dealt only with persons who had served lengthy prison terms rather than those who had been involuntarily committed).

More importantly, Congress seems to agree. It allows states to receive certain federal grants only if they establish programs that provide an avenue for "relief" from the lifetime ban of §§ 922(d)(4), 922(g)(4). For example, § 105 of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, 121 Stat. 2559, describes a state's program as qualifying in the following way:

(a) Program Described.— A relief from disabilities program is implemented by a State in accordance with this section if the program—

(1) permits a person who, pursuant to State law, has been adjudicated as described in subsection (g)(4) of section 922 of title 18, United States Code, or has been committed to a mental institution, to apply to the State for relief from the disabilities imposed by subsections (d)(4) and (g)(4) of such section by reason of the adjudication or commitment;

(2) provides that a State court, board, commission, or other lawful authority shall grant the relief, pursuant to State law and in accordance with the principles of due process, if the circumstances regarding the disabilities referred to in paragraph (1), and the person's record and reputation, are such that the person will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest; and

(3) permits a person whose application for the relief is denied to file a petition with the State court of appropriate jurisdiction for a de novo judicial review of the denial.

(b) Authority To Provide Relief From Certain Disabilities With Respect to Firearms.— If, under a State relief from disabilities program implemented in accordance with this section, an application for relief referred to in subsection (a)(1) of this section is granted with respect to an adjudication or a commitment to a mental institution or based upon a removal of a record under section 102(c)(1)(B), the adjudication or commitment, as the case may be, is deemed not to have occurred for purposes of subsections (d)(4) and (g)(4) of section 922 of title 18, United States Code.

Michigan, however, wasn't one of the states that implemented a relief program. And this brings us to Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sherrif's Dept., 837 F.3d 678 (2016). Therein a Michigan resident who wanted to purchase a firearm was deemed ineligible by the Sheriff's Office because of an involuntary commitment related to a depressive episode during a divorce a couple decades earlier. On appealing to the FBI's NICS Section, he was denied. His case became a federal one and eventually reached the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Tyler. Because Michigan's lack of a relief program made § 922(g)(4) operate as a permanent ban on Tyler's ability to possess a firearm, they ordered a lower court to determine whether § 922(g)(4) was unconstitutional as it applied to Tyler's specific circumstances. This gave Tyler the opportunity to argue that he didn't present a danger to the public.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you for your detailed response. "Yet Congress made no exception for subsequent curative events." I'm not sure how much time and effort most congressmen put into this question. Many of them don't even read the bills they sign, and the law was from the 60s. Either way, I could potentially pass if Michigan didn't report my hospitalization to NICS. If I don't, maybe a gun right's group can help me advocate my case. Thank you again. – user27343 Mar 31 at 14:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.