Iowans Disqualified from Possessing Firearms for Mental Health Holds Can Apply to Have Their Firearms Rights Reinstated

Many Iowans suffer from mental illness.  Some have even had the unfortunate and unpleasant experience of being involuntarily hospitalized for treatment of a mental illness.  While some people who have been treated for a mental condition continue to experience horrible and extreme symptoms of their mental illness all their life, others do not experience these lifelong effects.  Some receive treatment that works and no longer pose a danger to themselves and others.  Others have symptoms that are short term following a severely traumatic event in their life, such as the death of a loved one.  The point is: some people get better and enjoy healthy, “normal” lives. 

Regardless of whether a person has controlled or eliminated their mental disability, federal and state law have safeguards in place preventing person who have been involuntarily hospitalized for treatment of a mental illness from possessing firearms. 

This can be a double edged sword.  On one hand, we don’t want people who have serious mental afflictions to have access to guns and weapons.  On the other hand, there is no reason that a person who had one instance of a mental breakdown fifteen years ago after the tragic death of a family member, for example, and was involuntarily hospitalized for a week should be forever barred from ever owning or possessing a weapon ever again. 

Currently, federal law prevents an individual who was involuntarily hospitalized for treatment of a mental illness from shipping, possessing, receiving, transporting, or causing the transport of any firearm or ammunition.  (Source: Chapter 18 of the United States Code, sections 922(d)(4) and 922(g)(4)).  In 2011, the Iowa Legislature amended Iowa Code section 724.31(1) to help law enforcement agencies identify persons who might have a mental illness, which would prevent those people from possessing, shipping, or receiving firearms or ammunition under federal law.  The amendment to the Code requires that Iowa Court clerks identify all cases in which a person was involuntarily hospitalized and send that information to the Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS).  The code also required that all persons who were involuntarily committed receive notice from the clerk of their disqualification from eligibility to obtain a firearm. 

A person can get their firearms rights back, however. Iowa Code section 724.31(2) allows a person who has been disqualified from possessing a firearm because of an involuntary hospitalization to file a petition in the Iowa district court to remove the prohibition against their eligibility to obtain a firearms permit.  The petition must meet the following requirements:

  • Be filed in the county where the order for mental health treatment was filed or in the district court in the county where you currently reside
  • The petition must be served on the director of the department of human services and the county attorney at the county attorney’s office of the county in which the original order was filed
  • The petition must also
    • state the circumstances surrounding the original issuance of the order that resulted in the firearms disabilities imposed under federal law
    • include the petitioner’s mental health records and criminal history records, if any
    • include character witness statements, testimony, or other character evidence
    • state the changes in the petitioner’s condition or circumstances since the issuance of the original order for treatment

If you think you meet the requirements to reinstate your firearms rights, you should contact an attorney to explore your options and determine your eligibility for reinstatement.