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 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.

Pennsylvania law requires the reporting of mental health information to NICS by the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”), stating:

Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the Pennsylvania State Police shall, within 72 hours of receipt, disclose, electronically or otherwise, to the United States Attorney General or a designee, any record relevant to a determination of whether a person is disqualified from possessing or receiving a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) or (4) [prohibiting possession of a firearm or ammunition by any person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance or who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or involuntarily committed to any mental institution] or an applicable state statute and any record relevant to a determination of whether a person is not disqualified or is no longer disqualified from possessing or receiving a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) or (4) or an applicable state statute.2

Pennsylvania law also requires judges of the courts of common pleas to notify PSP, on a form developed by PSP, of:

  • The identity of any individual who has been adjudicated as an incompetent or as a mental defective or who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or who has been involuntarily treated as an inpatient or outpatient as described or federal or Pennsylvania law relating to firearms; and
  • Any finding of fact or court order related to any person prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm or ammunition as an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.3

The notification must be transmitted by the judge to PSP within seven days of the adjudication, commitment or treatment.4

The Pennsylvania law that governs the confidentiality of mental health records states that it does not restrict judges of the courts of common pleas, mental health review officers and county mental health and mental retardation administrators from disclosing information to PSP or PSP from disclosing information to any person, in accordance with these provisions.5

If a court grants relief from the Pennsylvania prohibition on firearm possession by persons adjudicated to be incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution, a copy of the order must be sent to PSP within ten days. The order must include the name, date of birth and social security number of the individual.6

As of November 2013, Pennsylvania is a leader in the number of people identified in NICS because of mental illness.7

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

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

Notes
  1. 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(4). ⤴︎
  2. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.1(f)(3). ⤴︎
  3. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.1(f). See also 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6109(i.1)(2), which requires “the judge of the court of common pleas, mental health review officer or county mental health and mental retardation administrator” to report to PSP persons adjudicated incompetent, or involuntarily committed for inpatient care and treatment, or upon involuntary treatment of a person as described in 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(4). See also 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7109(d) (same). ⤴︎
  4. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6109(i.1)(2), 6111.1(f)(2); 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7109(d). ⤴︎
  5. 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7111. ⤴︎
  6. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(j). For PSP’s regulations regarding the reporting of mental health information, see 37 Pa. Code §§ 33.103(e), 33.120. ⤴︎
  7. Everytown for Gun Safety, Closing the Gaps:  Strengthening the Background Check System to Keep Guns Away from the Dangerously Mentally Ill (May 2014), at http://everytown.org/article/closing-the-gaps/?source=fbno_closingthegaps&utm_source=fb_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=closingthegaps. ⤴︎