A person who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or who has been committed to a mental institution may not lawfully possess firearms or ammunition under federal and Tennessee law. 18 U.S. Code §922 and Tenn. Code. Ann. §39-17-(f)(1)(C).

There is a procedure in the U.S. Code for relief of the disabilities under federal law, set out at 18 U.S. Code §925. Under this statute and its administrative regulations, a person could petition the Attorney General for relief from the disabilities under 18 U.S. Code §922. However, since 1992, Congress has not appropriated any funds for this program. For practical purposes, there is no federal procedure for relief.

Until now, there was no procedure under Tennessee law for restoration of firearm rights for being adjudicated as a mental defective or for having been committed to a mental institution. This changed on July 1, 2015.

New statutes will enable a person who was judicially committed to have their firearm rights restored. Under 2015 Public Acts Chapter 0459, a person can petition the court for relief from firearm disabilities by the commitment or adjudication.

The petition for relief cannot be filed until three years have passed from the adjudication or release, whichever is later. At a hearing, the court is to review the circumstances that led to the adjudication, the mental health and criminal records, the petitioner’s reputation, and changes in the condition or circumstances. To grant relief, the court must find that the person is no longer likely to act in a manner that is dangerous to public safety and that granting relief would not be contrary to the public interest.

This process is authorized under the 2007 improvements to the federal background check law. It will also enable Tennessee to receive federal funds to improve its recordkeeping and reporting.