Get a gun? I may be crazy but I am not criminally insane
October 10, 2007 5:52 PM   Subscribe

In the past I was committed to a mental hospital. Now I would like to learn to be a long range marksman and perhaps shoot skeet. What options do I have to legally purchase, own and use a firearm for these purposes?

To be perfectly blunt about my mental condition, I was diagnosed Bipolar and committed to a mental hospital twice in consecutive years for Manic episodes. This occurred in Colorado and both times prior to my episode I was either un-medicated had been off meds for many months. Since then I have been faithfully on medications and totally stable (or at least as stable as any average sane person).

Further, I have *NEVER*, even in my manic episodes, been violent towards myself or others. I would take all necessary precautions of informing my family, friends and medical professionals about my owning of a firearm. I take this quite seriously but do not want to get bogged down in issues regarding the rights of the Mentally Ill (as poor as they are).

That said, I now live in North Carolina. I would like to get into sharpshooting and skeet shooting. I don't intend to do any hunting so the most I would use the guns would be on a shooting range or perhaps in the countryside on a friend's land.

How can I legally purchase, own, and use a rifle/shot gun as described above?

Barring that, how could I non-criminally obtain said gun and own/use it in a manner that would not run into problems with the law in the State of North Carolina?

Baring that how could I rent/borrow said gun legally for target practice?
posted by DetonatedManiac to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Summary of North Carolina gun laws (but not entirely helpful).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:00 PM on October 10, 2007

Says in the summary that you're not allowed a gun if you've been committed to a mental institution. Looks like you're out of luck.
posted by schroedinger at 6:02 PM on October 10, 2007

Best answer: Okay -- 18 U.S.C.A. § 922(g)(4) prevents firearms to a person "who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution."

BUT -- a person can petition for relief from this prohibition under 18 U.S.C.A. § 925(c). There is an interesting case on this called United States Department of Treasury v. Galioto, 477 U.S. 556 (1986).

Relevant language re 925(c):

A person who is prohibited from possessing, shipping, transporting, or receiving firearms or ammunition may make application to the Attorney General for relief from the disabilities imposed by Federal laws with respect to the acquisition, receipt, transfer, shipment, transportation, or possession of firearms, and the Attorney General may grant such relief if it is established to his satisfaction that the circumstances regarding the disability, and the applicant's record and reputation, are such that the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest. Any person whose application for relief from disabilities is denied by the Attorney General may file a petition with the United States district court for the district in which he resides for a judicial review of such denial.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:11 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whoops, here's the link for the Galioto case.

Case reviews history of law -- previously, people with psychiatric commitments were excluded from the administrative petition process. Now the law permits people barred for that reason to seek seek relief.

Arghg I am avoiding my real work.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:14 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "... I would like to get into sharpshooting and skeet shooting. I don't intend to do any hunting ..."

May I suggest that you consider a precision air rifle for your target shooting? In terms of skill, they provide challenging sport, even for competition shooters, and yet they avoid most problems you may have with gun control laws, as they are not considered firearms, in most jurisdictions. They're also lower cost to shoot, round for round, than conventional firearms, and their spent ammunition has a lower environmental impact than even small calibre, rim fire target shooting weapons, like .22 rifles.

You might also want to contact gun clubs and ranges in your area. Be frank about your situation, explain your interests, and take the advice of knowledgeable local people in your area. The gun hobby world, like many others interests, is built on personal relationships, and consistent, demonstrated interests. If you act reasonably, responsibly, and openly, in time, you may be invited to shoot, with someone else's weapon, on a private range, in the company of others who can help you learn, and build experience in the skeet shooting hobby. That might be a good, legal way for you to test your interest in the skeet hobby, while you sort out issues of buying and using your own weapons in other venues, in pursuit of your interests, if you are able to do so.
posted by paulsc at 6:29 PM on October 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

You'll need a lawyer for this. Contact a local gun nut attorney who fights this case in your jurisdiction. I suspect there will be dozens.

I'm not your lawyer, this is not legal advice.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:33 PM on October 10, 2007

sorry, local gun nut attorney who fights these cases in your jurisdiction.

Like Claudia Center, I am avoiding my real work. I will trade her my Motion for whatever submission she's working on. Since we work in the same area of law, I'm certain it will be interchangeable.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:38 PM on October 10, 2007

At least through 2002, the 925(c) process was apparently inoperable, see US v. Bean and background law review article.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:15 PM on October 10, 2007

Do not go to a gun club (at least one that you might want to become a member of or shoot at later) until you get this dealt with. They probably won't know anything more than you will, and chances are they will see you as a liability. Lots of gun clubs, particularly those in areas that are becoming overrun with suburbanites, have a definite siege mentality and won't want to involve themselves with anyone whose past is even the tiniest bit hinky. Since most gun clubs have a vote-in procedure where it's easy to blackball someone (for many good reasons), you don't want your first impression on them to be "hey, I just got out of the loony bin out West, now where do I buy the guns?" (And yeah, I know, that's not what you're really doing, but look at this from the perspective of someone who's nervous and paranoid, and who is dealing with VT fallout against the sport that they love.) Tread carefully there; appearances are important.

How you go about having your commitment to a mental hospital effectively removed from your record varies from state to state. In some states, you have to submit a letter from your treating psychiatrist saying that it's safe for you to own one. In other states, you may have to petition the AG's office. I can't find anything online that explains exactly what the deal is in NC.

I suggest getting a lawyer who does firearms issues. The NRA can probably recommend one, if you write to them. This may be available only to members, I'm not sure. The state-level organization that's similar to the NRA in purpose, I think, is the NCRPA. If I were you, I'd become a member, and then ask -- very cautiously -- for the name of an attorney who's solidly pro-gun and that they can recommend.

Be prepared to spend some money here, and work cautiously and slowly. A lot may depend on the impression you make on certain people, because some states' firearms laws give large amounts of discretion to judges, sheriffs, and the attorney general.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:29 PM on October 10, 2007

I'd just find a friend who shoots, front him the money to buy a gun which he keeps in his possession, and go shooting with him.

I appreciate that you are well now, and as "sane" as the next person. But bipolar can be a wily bitch, and even tho you are stable now there really aren't any guarantees as you grow older. With my suggestion you break no laws, have a buddy to shoot with and be accountable to, and if perish the thought, your meds stop working or need tweaking, you don't find yourself in a bad situation.

And just so you know, I've been a cardcarrying member of the bp club myself.
posted by konolia at 7:35 PM on October 10, 2007

In the past I was committed to a mental hospital.

I believe the statute refers to those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital against their will. This may or may not be you. I've always found my local (rural) sheriff's office to be helpful for legal interpretation. If you live in a gun friendly area, it might be worth a shot.
posted by mrmojoflying at 8:50 PM on October 10, 2007

I'd just find a friend who shoots, front him the money to buy a gun which he keeps in his possession, and go shooting with him.

No, no, no... that's a Straw Purchase you don't want to be a part of.
posted by whatisish at 9:33 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am an NRA member and get spammy e-mail from them quite a bit. Their latest mass e-mail, from five days ago, was talking about the NRA's controversial-within-its-ranks support for the NICS Improvement Bill (H.R. 2640 -- which is fallout from the Virginia Tech massacre), and actually dealt with common questions about this very issue. The following are selected quotes from the e-mail they sent out:
MYTH: "Millions of Americans will awake one day and find that they are suddenly barred from buying guns based upon decades old convictions of 'misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence,' or mental health adjudications that were later rescinded or expired."

FACT: H.R. 2640 does not create any new classes of "prohibited persons." The NRA does not, and will not, support the creation of new classes of prohibited persons. H.R. 2640 only requires reporting of available records on people who are prohibited from possessing firearms under existing law.

Also, H.R. 2640 -- for the first time -- specifies that mental health adjudications may not be reported if they've been expunged, or if the person has received relief from the adjudication under the procedures required by the bill. In those cases, the mental adjudication or commitment "shall be deemed not to have occurred," and therefore would not prohibit the person from possessing firearms.

MYTH: "As many as a quarter to a third of returning Iraq veterans could be prohibited from owning firearms-based solely on a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder."

FACT: The only veterans who would be reported to NICS under this bill due to mental health issues are -- as with civilians -- those who are adjudicated as incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution.

A diagnosis alone is never enough; the person must be "adjudicated as a mental defective," which is a legal term that implies a fair hearing process. The Veterans' Administration has regulations that provide veterans with an opportunity for a hearing on those decisions, and an opportunity for multiple appeals-just as a civilian does in state court. Any records that don't meet this standard could not be reported to NICS, and any deficient records that have already been provided would have to be removed... [some text removed here]

MYTH: A child who has been diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder "can be banned for life from ever owning a gun as an adult." "Your ailing grandfather could have his entire gun collection seized, based only on a diagnosis of Alzheimer's (and there goes the family inheritance)."

FACT: Again, a psychiatric or medical diagnosis alone is not an "adjudication" or "commitment."

Critics base their concern on BATFE regulations that define an "adjudication" to include a decision by a "court, board, commission, or other lawful authority." They claim any doctor could potentially be a "lawful authority."

They are wrong. Not even the Clinton Administration took such an extreme position. In fact, the term "lawful authority" was apparently intended to cover various types of government panels that are similar to "courts, boards, or commissions." Basic principles of legal interpretation require reading it that way. The term also doesn't override the basic constitutional protections that come into play in decisions about a person's mental health.

Finally, records of voluntary treatment also would not be available under federal and state health privacy laws, which H.R. 2640 also does not override.

MYTH: People who get voluntary drug or alcohol treatment would be prohibited from possessing guns.

FACT: Again, current BATFE regulations make clear that voluntary commitments do not affect a person's right to arms. NRA (and, surely, the medical community) would vehemently oppose any proposal that would punish or deter a person getting needed voluntary treatment.
Again, this is text from a recent NRA e-mail, not legal advice for you from a lawyer. But it should clear up some of the issues, I hope.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:34 PM on October 10, 2007

Best answer: Re H.R. 2640 -- it sounds like one question is whether the new bill (H.R. 2640) will fix the older legislation (which permitted people with certain felonies, past psychiatric commitments, etc. to petition for relief under 925(c), but thereafter Congress cut off all appropriations to permit consideration of such petitions). So if I were an NRA-type (I'm not), I could see being skeptical. Because the past procedure hasn't worked.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:50 PM on October 10, 2007

all of this makes me want to go shooting again!

In addition to contacting attorneys and the nra, you might wish to contact local mental health advocates and charities, which might have experience in this matter or could refer you to relevant attorneys in your area.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:40 AM on October 11, 2007

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