Will I ever be able to get a CCW?
November 6, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I made a supremely stupid decision and am now wondering whether it's going to ruin my chances of ever getting a CCW. More inside.

Last summer in the Bay Area of California, I superficially cut my wrists. The police came, put me in an ambulance, and sent me to a mental health facility. I asked them not to take me to the hospital. I was told I was being 5150'd.
At the mental health facility, I signed documentation that stated I was aware I could be held for up to 72 hours for observation before being admitted involuntarily. The box that said "You cannot purchase a firearm for 5 years without a judge annulling this document" was left unchecked.
In about two hours, I was interviewed by the psychiatrist, who then deemed that I was stable and could be released the same day. So, I spent about 6 hours sitting in an emergency room-esque area with a bunch of other people, and then I was discharged to a friend and taken home. A few months later, I was billed for the cost of the hospital visit. Insurance covered it.
I have residency in the state of South Carolina and will soon be eligible to apply for a CCW. I would also like to be able to carry in Georgia.

Essentially, I am wondering if a) I should answer "No" to "Have you ever been adjudicated mentally incapacitated or committed to a mental institution?" on the South Carolina application and if b) I will pass a NICS background check.

On the 4473 form for purchasing a handgun, the section Adjudicated Mentally Defective states "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."
The section Committed to a Mental Institution states "A formal commitment of a person to a mental institution by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority. 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."

I know you are not a lawyer, but I have been unable to find clarification about this. I will likely speak to a lawyer soon, but perhaps some of you have insight. I really, really hope that an immature decision will not jeopardize my gun-owning chances for the rest of my life.

Throwaway email at 5150gunownership@gmail.com. Please email me for any clarification or advice. Thanks so much.
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL but I don't see how anything that happened to you could be construed to meet those criteria.
posted by ghharr at 10:58 AM on November 6, 2009

I think you're fine... unless I'm mistaken there's no penalty for failing your NICS - you could, at that point, take it before a magistrate and possibly have it annulled anyway.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:11 AM on November 6, 2009

You were not adjudicated to anything or committed to anything. Background check may turn something up, but if there is no court documentation, not likely at all. If I understand correctly, police reports don't turn up in public records searches unless they are part of a court file.

Also, the shrink determined you were okay in short order and you were released the same day. Sounds like a stamp of approval to me. Shit happens, and there are people MUCH worse off than you with legal, legitimate access to weapons.
posted by Xoebe at 11:12 AM on November 6, 2009

I wouldn't think this counted.

As others have said, you were neither "adjudicated" nor "committed".

However, you know who would know? A lawyer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:07 PM on November 6, 2009

Well, I have friends who work in admitting for a mental hospital in Los Angeles. A somewhat common occurrence is people with Dementia getting set over with 5150's. After the the doc takes a look and finds out they don't have a mental health issue* the are denied admission and it's like the 5150 never happened.

Once again, this is people who work in the office, so they aren't exactly legal scholars on the issue. But, it appears that if the doc said "you're good" and sent you on your way you should be OK.

*apparently Dementia is more of a physical medical issue than a mental issue, like Bipolar or schizophrenia.
posted by sideshow at 12:24 PM on November 6, 2009

Contact your local NRA for access to a lawyer who specializes in this stuff.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:14 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you weren't fully admitted to the facility, and therefore no paperwork was filed with the court. Usually, the lawful authority in order to be committed is either a licensed psychiatrist (or psychologist...depends on how the law reads) or a judge. Police/EMTs are not trained to make that decision. Generally they are trained to see if someone is incapacitated enough to take them for further evaluation.

I did not work in California, so I'm not knowledgeable on the laws there. However, when we did assessments on patients that were sent to us from an ER on a 72 hour hold (involuntary hold), it was our psychiatrist that would decide whether or not they stayed. The psychiatrist had to actually SEE the patient and make the decision, however. The Masters level and RN admission staff were not legally able to make that decision. Based on that, it sounds like the psychiatrist decided that you were not a danger to your self or others, and that you did not need to be held.

This is not legal, medical, or psychiatric advice. I am not a licensed mental health professional.
posted by MultiFaceted at 7:11 PM on November 6, 2009

"Contact your local NRA for access to a lawyer who specializes in this stuff."

There really isn't any "local NRA" to contact. If you're an NRA member, you might try contacting the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund.

It would probably be easier, though, to just call or write the South Carolina Attorney General's office or State Law Enforcement Division and ask them.
posted by LDL707 at 9:11 PM on November 6, 2009


I think part of the question might be whether or not the police officer needs to submit the 5150 hold document to anyone else other than the hospital - like the department of justice, etc. IANAL/Psychiatrist, but I am sitting across from a psychiatrist right now who muses the following: that it sounds like your question is what SC considers 'formal commitment'. A 5150 hold seems to be more of a situation like: I'm a police officer and concerned about your mental capacity, so I'm invoking this hold to get you to a psychiatrist for 72 hours to see what they say. Then a psychiatrist says 'yep, you should stay at the hospital' or 'no, you can go'.

Part of the issue is that depending on where you are, and who's reading it - 'formal commitment' starts at the moment when the police officer invokes the hold, or when the psychiatrist agrees that there is a psychiatric issue that means you should stay beyond 72 hours. Different people - and perhaps different states - read that differently ('admitted' starts at soon as the hold is invoked vs. admitted starts within 72 hours, when the doctor assesses you and decides you should stay) So that's why you need a SC/Georgia lawyer to tell you how they read it. Also, the firearm ban might start when the hold is invoked by the police officer, regardless of what decision by the psychiatrist is.

Assuming Multifaceted is right from the hospital standpoint (and it sounds like s/he is), one question is: what does the police officer do with their 5150 hold documentation? Is it attached to the police report? Is it submitted somewhere? Because if so, the police never get 'the end of the story' - that the doctor released you. So the police report says: We detained X for a 5150 hold. The hospital report might say: X was brought in on a 5150 but released after a doctor looked at them. But depending on who the police officer is required to report this information to, the 'damage could be done', particularly if the firearm ban starts with the hold.

LDL707 is right - contact South Carolina Attorney General's office or State Law Enforcement Division specifically and ask them if the 5150 hold invokes the firearm ban, or if the assessment by a doctor that extends your involuntary stay beyond 72 hours triggers the ban. Also if the 5150 hold invokes the 'adjudicated mentally incapacitated' statement.
posted by anitanita at 11:07 PM on November 6, 2009

Oh, and that psychiatrist? He's not your psychiatrist or lawyer, just a guy thinking about what questions he would have if it was him in this situation. And he does say that he hopes things work out for you.
posted by anitanita at 11:21 PM on November 6, 2009

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