The state of Georgia declined to submit the names of almost 500 previously involuntarily committed individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in 2015, despite no court order or doctor’s evaluation determining they were capable of responsibly owning firearms.
Despite popular misconception, the FBI does not have the authority to force states to submit names to the NICS, a national database used by gun dealers to run background checks of buyers. Although Congress intended for the federal government to have this authority when it passed the 1993 Brady Bill, the Supreme Court ruled four years later that this mandate exceeds the federal government’s power under the 10th Amendment.
At the same time, federal law prohibits people with severe mental illness from obtaining firearms, particularly people who have been involuntarily committed, as well as other prescriptively dangerous individuals such as felons and domestic abusers.
More than a decade ago, the Georgia legislature passed a law authorizing the state to comply with the FBI’s record requests. This measure included a provision prohibiting the state from including the names of individuals who were involuntary committed more than five years prior.
As a result, Georgia uploaded the names of approximately 2,000 new people on the basis of their mental illness in 2015, but deleted more than 500 previously listed individuals, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Georgia is the only state in the country with an automatic process for removing names of people who were involuntarily committed.
Other states have implemented so-called “relief from disabilities” programs, which allow people to petition to have their Second Amendment rights restored. Most of these programs include a requirement that the petitioners supply medical documentation demonstrating why they should be trusted with firearms.
Proponents of Georgia’s approach say the five-year period is reasonable, arguing that gun restrictions can unfairly stigmatize people with mental illness and that the public overemphasizes the linkage between mental illness and gun violence.
“It’s a tenuous position for someone to have had a mental illness,” State Sen. Renee Unterman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Your mental health when you’re 25 years old is different from when you’re 55 years old. Why should you carry the baggage and stigma of mental illness? … If you stigmatize people, it makes people afraid to come out.”