See our Mental Health Reporting policy for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Federal law prohibits possession of a firearm or ammunition by any person who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or involuntarily “committed to any mental institution.”1 Massachusetts law states that Firearm Identification Cards (“FID”) and licenses to carry handguns may not be issued to applicants who have been committed to any hospital or institution for mental illness, or appointed a guardian or conservator on the grounds that he or she lacks the mental capacity to manage his or her affairs.2 Upon issuing the commitment order, the court must notify the person that he or she is prohibited from obtaining a FID or license to carry.3

No federal law, however, requires states to report the identities of these individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database, which the FBI uses to perform background checks prior to firearm transfers. In 2014, Massachusetts enacted a law significantly improving the state’s reporting of mental health information to NICS. The law requires courts to transmit certain mental health records, such as records of involuntary commitments and the appointment of a guardian or conservator, to the state Department of Criminal Justice Information Services for inclusion in NICS.4

The Department of Mental Health must keep records of the admission, treatment, and periodic review of all persons admitted to facilities under its supervision.5 However, the records of the Department of Mental Health are “private and not open to public inspection” except for certain specified purposes.”6 The 2014 law allows the use of such information for the purposes of conducting background checks.7

In addition, the 2014 law requires the Department of Mental Health to transmit to the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services, within 180 days of the effective date of the law, identifying information about anyone known to the Department of Mental Health to have been, within the preceding 20 years, committed to facilities for mental illness or substance/alcohol abuse; or determined by a adjudicative body to “pose a serious risk of harm” as defined by the law.8

For general information on the background check process and categories of prohibited purchasers or possessors, see the Background Checks section and the section entitled Prohibited Purchasers Generally.

Notes
  1. 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(4). ⤴︎
  2. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129B. ⤴︎
  3. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, § 35. ⤴︎
  4. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, § 167A; ch. 123, §§ 35; 36A; ch. 215, § 56C. ⤴︎
  5. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, § 36. ⤴︎
  6. Id. ⤴︎
  7. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, § 36A. ⤴︎
  8. Act of Aug. 13, 2014, Mass. Pub. L. No. 284-2014, Section 98. ⤴︎