Mental Health Laws in Relation to Gun Background Checks

When we last discussed mental health in relation to gun background checks, we talked about the Fix Gun Checks Act, proposed by the Senate a month ago. If passed, the bill requires all states to report mental health history to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Presently, not all states report this information, and if the Fix Gun Checks Act is passed, all states would be required to report this information to NICS. A state will face fines for not providing this information.

While not a direct response to this, a mental health gun check bill recently passed in the House in Delaware. The bill, titled H.B. 48, would require Delaware to report all mental health information to the national database, which is used to screen potential gun buyers.

Two instances have caused states to report this information. NICS expanded to include mental health information as a response to the Virginia Tech shooting, and the Fix Gun Checks Act is a reaction to the recent Tucson shooting. However, what counts as a mental health condition has not clearly been defined, and the Fix Gun Checks Act will define this.

But, as a recent bill passed in Iowa shows, what happens if a person deemed “mentally deficient” – and reported to a national database as such – recovers? Until recently in Iowa, those labeled “mentally deficient” because of an injury or similar condition were barred from purchasing a firearm for life. With the newly-passed bill, those deemed “mentally deficient” can apply to the Department of Human Services to have their name removed from the state list. After a hearing determining the individual’s condition, the individual’s name is removed. If an individual is kept on the list after the hearing, he or she needs to wait two years to re-apply.