Clarity on mental health and form 4473
As we see another horrible tragedy, committed by a child with known mental problems, there is still quite a bit of confusion from the firearms community, and those who know nothing about firearms, as to how this could happen and what could have went wrong.
this article seeks to clarify the issue by directly quoting the form itself, and the instructions for the form, included on page 4 of the form 4473.
Please note: this is not primarily an opinion piece, as we will be dealing with the facts as we know them currently.
first, here's what the question on the form 4473 regarding mental health actually says, followed by the instructions:
" 11f. " have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?" (see instructions for question 11f.) "
"instructions for 11f.
"Question 11.f. Adjudicated as a Mental Defective: A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease: (1) is a danger to himself or to others; or (2) lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs. This term shall include: (1) a finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case; and (2) those persons found incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility.Committed to a Mental Institution: A formal commitment of a person to a mental institution by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority. The term includes a commitment to a mental institution involuntarily. The term includes commitment for mental defectiveness or mental illness. It also includes commitments for other reasons, such as for drug use. The term does not include a person in a mental institution for observation or a voluntary admission to a mental institution.
EXCEPTION: Under the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, a person who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution in a State proceeding is not prohibited by the adjudication or commitment if the person has been granted relief by the adjudicating/committing State pursuant to a qualifying mental health relief from disabilities program. Also, a person who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution by a department or agency of Federal Government is not prohibited by the adjudication or commitment if either: (a) the person's adjudication or commitment was set-aside or expunged by the adjudicating/committing agency; (b) the person has been fully released or discharged from all mandatory treatment, supervision, or monitoring by the agency; (c) the person was found by the agency to no longer suffer from the mental health condition that served as the basis of the initial adjudication /commitment; or (d) the adjudication or commitment, respectively, is based solely on a medical finding of disability, without an opportunity for a hearing by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority, and the person has not been adjudicated as a mental defective consistent with section 922(g)(4) of title 18, United States Code; (e) the person was granted relief from the adjudicating/ committing agency pursuant to a qualified mental health relief from disabilities program.
Persons who fall within one of the above exceptions should answer "no" to question 11.f.
This exception to an adjudication or commitment by a Federal department or agency does not apply to any person who was adjudicated to be not guilty by reason of insanity, or based on lack of mental responsibility, or found incompetent to stand trial, in any criminal case or under the Uniform Code of Military Justice"
if you notice, I have put in bold one area where this recent situation applies. if you are put into a facility for observation or willingly go, you are not prohibited.
we find more details about the shooter, that he had issues, was well known by police, but was never formally entered into florida's database under , because both the investigators felt that it wasn't needed under the "baker act", and that despite all of the visits, that he wasn't a threat to himself or others. because of these facts, he was allowed to legally purchase a firearm, and did not falsify his form 4473.
Another thing that's floating around is how supposedly taking SSRIs or other medications for depression disqualifies you. this also is not true. nowhere in the federal form 4473 does it discuss being on legally prescribed anti-depressants or other medications that would disqualify him from owning a gun. the exception to the rule here in California in the case of pot, which is legally prescribed in terms of the state, but is banned on the federal level, and therefore would disqualify a purchaser due to its federal status.
I can speak to the SSRI issue first hand because I have been prescribed them in the past 10 years, and regularly seek counseling from a therapist to manage issues from childhood traumas, and it did not prevent me from passing a background check and or disqualify me from firearm ownership, nor did it prevent me from obtaining an FFL, COE, LFL, ammo vendor license, or a high capacity magazine permit (to name a few.) Those that would cite this likely heard it from someone somewhere, but as it pertains to the law, it isn't the case, and you likely will not find anything in the law that would disqualify you, likely due to the fact that many people are anti-depressants for one reason or another, but wouldn't fall under necessarily being deemed a threat to yourself or others either, so again the shooter fell through that crack because of a follow up issue on the part of state agencies.
As it pertains to State law, even, the only questions we ask which pertain to mental health are:
"Firearms Eligibility Question 2: Is purchaser a danger to self or others pursuant to Welfare and Institutions code (WIC) section 8100, or a person who has been admitted to a mental health facility as a danger to self or others pursuant to WIC sections 5150, 5151, and/or 5152 with in the past five years?
Firearms Eligibility Question 3: Has purchaser ever been adjudicated by a court to be danger to others, found not guilty by reason of insanity, found incompetent to stand trial, or placed under a conservatorship pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 8103? "
Again, with respect to California state law, which is really strict, there is no mention of being on anti-depressants per say, which would disqualify you.
What this boils down to is a certain loophole created by one part of the question on the form 4473, sort to speak, it's how being adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution is defined and applied, and in this case, didn't apply to the shooter because of the inaction of the Florida state officials in charge of observing the young man.
as always, stay safe, be with your loved ones, and work to meet in the middle on this issue, as there's definitely some things that need to be shorn up to prevent things like this from happening in the future.
*The views expressed are strictly those of Ken Kraushaar and does not necessarily reflect those of the IFSA or the NRA*
Ken Kraushaar is a Gunsmith, IFSA Certified Firearm Specialist, NRA Range Safety Officer, and sportsman with over 30 years of shooting experience, and lives in beautiful Sonoma County, California.