Resource Document on Access to Firearms by People with Mental Illness
Approved by the Joint Reference Committee, June 2009
Reports of mass shootings and other serious firearmrelated violence, such as the Columbine shootings of 1999 and the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, are often accompanied by indications that the perpetrator had some emotional disturbance or mental illness. These incidents have raised growing concern about access to firearms (1) by people with mental disorders. Current federal law (2) and the laws of several states (3) bar purchase of firearms by specified categories of people, including persons with certain mental health histories, particularly involuntary hospitalization. These statutes aim to prevent sale of firearms to ineligible persons by requiring dealers to confirm the person’s eligi-bility by running a “check” through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). However, as became evident in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, most states do not now report information on mental health histories to the NICS. By enacting the NICS Improvement Act of 2007 (4), Congress sought to encourage the states to establish registries of persons who have had the mental health histories that make them ineligible to purchase firearms under federal law.