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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bryan L. Ciyou is a trial and appellate attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. He earned his BA with distinction and graduated through the honors program, along with his JD,... Read More

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (& Depression) and Possessing a Firearm: The Basics

A number of citizens who have been subject to violent crime, observed or were in a tragedy and members of our military pose frequent questions about how does treatment for PTSD impact their constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Does it preclude possession of a firearm? Could it? The answer is complex, but “it depends.” This blog post will outline the basic answers to these rhetorical questions1.

These same sets of questions are posed by individuals who suffer from depression and the analysis is generally the same as set forth in this blog post.

A good place to understand this topic is with epidemiology. This branch of medicine is the study of distribution and determinates of disease in a population (such as people across society or nation as a whole and then within certain specific groups, such as veterans who served in combat). Incidentally, as our wars (appear to be) winding down, members of the military, both men and women have much higher rates of PTSD than the general U.S. Population2.

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PTSD is a mental disorder that falls under Anxiety Disorders, which includes under it panic and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Approximately 7.7 million American adults age 18 and older, or about 3.5 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have PTSD. PTSD can develop at any time, but frequently occurs after assaults, such as rape, mugging or domestic violence. Terrorism and natural or human caused disasters and accidents may also play a causal role in PTSD3.

As this relates to firearms, the question is when does a mental disorder rise to the level to prohibit the possession (including purchase, carry, take transfer of) a firearm. This is a complex question that is reduced to the opening questions in this blog post.

Under the United States Code, Chapter 44, which covers “Firearms”, it is illegal and a federal felony “. . . if person has been adjudicated as a mentally defective or has been committed to any mental institution” for he or she to possess a firearm4.

Obviously, a person who already lawfully owns a firearm may be subsequently not a lawful possessor and would have to lawfully dispose of their firearms, if so adjudicated or committed as set forth in this provision of federal penal code. The typical way this federal law is enforced is with new firearm sales and a question posted on the ATF Form 4473 (Revised, April 2012).

This is question 11.f., which states as follows:

“f. Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective (which includes a determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that you are a danger to yourself or to other or are incompetent to manage your own affairs) or have you ever been committed to a mental institution?”
If your suffer from a PTSD diagnosis and fall into either of these categories, you would be an unlawful possessor of firearms, and would have to answer “yes” to this question. Failure to do so would be a crime in failing to improperly disclose this on an FFL and a separate crime in taking possession of a firearm if this actually occurred and you cleared the NICS check. This determination could be made by any state or federal body or medical doctor or police officer (i.e., involuntary commitment) and there is little clarification found in other legal resources.

However, there is an exception for having this disqualifier:

“A person who has been adjudicated as a mentally defective or committed to a mental institution is not prohibited if: (1) the person was adjudicated by or committed by a department or agency of the Federal Government, such as the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs (“VA”) (as opposed to a State court, State board, or other lawful State authority); and (2) either: (a) the person’s adjudication or commitment for mental incompetency was set aside or expunged by adjudicating agency; (b) the person has been fully released or discharged from all mandatory treatment, supervision, or monitoring by the agency; or (c) the person was found by the agency to no longer suffer from the mental health condition that served as the basis of the initial adjudication. Persons who fit this description should answer “no” to Item 11.f. This exception does not apply to any person who was adjudicated to be not guilty by reason of insanity, or based on lack of mental responsibility, or found incompetent to stand trial, in any criminal case or under the Uniform Code of Military Justice5.”

In addition, with competent legal counsel, there are many ways to examine a particular fact situation to address whether a person is a prohibited possessor based on mental health. These are beyond the scope of this blog post.

Most state statutes closely track the federal language for prohibiting a person from possessing a firearm for mental illness. However, under the Commerce Clause, the federal government has not pre-empted the field of firearms, but it occupies concurrently with the states6. Indeed some states have stricter requirements and disqualify a person in a civil context from possessing (purchasing, carrying, and taking transfer of) a firearm if they demonstrate themselves to be a dangerous person of some type.

A hearing must be afforded to comport with due process, and the burden is on the state. How does or could this account for PTSD?

Supposed a person has severe PTSD and it acting irrationally. This person has never been diagnosed, let alone been committed or adjudicated as mentally defective to trigger the federal preclusion of a prohibited person. Under the state provisions civil provisions, if a state has such, a person may have their firearms removed and be prohibited from purchasing or possession firearms until a hearing.

The case is more apparent where the sufferer of PTSD commits a criminal act and the police officer has probable cause for arrest and confiscation of firearms (this may take a search warrant depending on the circumstances) 7.

A final point is that a person who never receives a PTSD diagnosis, but nevertheless acts in ways that might evidence a propensity for emotionally unstable conduct, lawful authority to purchase a firearms (including a handguns) notwithstanding (i.e., no pending felony charges or convictions or domestic violence) may not be able to obtain a license to carry a handgun in their state as handguns have always had more rigid requirements to obtain a license to carry a handgun.

The premise upon which this theory has withstood numerous constitutional challenges is the ease of concealability of a handgun that would not provide a police officer, bystander or targeted victim with the advanced visual notice that seeing a long gun in advance could.

This frames the complex issue that PTSD and possessing a firearm may raise. If this is a situation you find yourself in, there is no substitute for the advice and counsel of an attorney knowledgeable in firearms law. Failure to do so may result in arrest, conviction, and incarceration in a federal or state prison. This blog post was written by attorney Bryan L. Ciyou. It is intended for general educational purposes only. It is not a solicitation for legal representation nor practice in any state where any of the firm’s attorneys are not admitted.

  1. Second Amendment to the United States Constitution applicable to the states through the Due Process Clause as decide in McDonald v. City of Chicago 561 U.S. 3025 (2010) (This case and the seminal Heller (2008) cases are a product of the work of Alan Gura, attorney for the Second Amendment Foundation and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation)
  2. McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010).
  3. United States Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD
  4. National Institute of Mental Health, The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America
  5. 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(4)
  6. NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007
  7. 18 U.S.C. § 927
  8. Fourth Amendment United States Constitution applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment


  1. Ptsd is very complicated. Sense my return from VN I suffered from anxiety, depression and other issues. At the urging of my wife I disposed of my firearms, probably a good move. In 1995 I was self medicating with alcohol and suffering immensely physically and emotionally. Chronic insomnia, nighttime panic attacks, episodes of dangerously high BP, no friends, isolated, and so forth . I finally got help at VA . I was already on 80%disability for wounds. I was encouraged to retire and was given 100% for PTSD. I take anti anxiety meds as needed, I take sleep and BP meds. I have never been violent or threatened anybody. All my treatment has been voluntary. I moved from NY to Florida. I got involved in hunting and shooting and then collecting guns. I have a CCW. I still deal with all the PTSD issues, but am stable, laws bing, responsible citizen. I will not tolerate the government trying to lump me into some group and deprive me of my second amendment rights. They already refused to renew my pilot medical.

    Comment by John on January 19, 2013 at 1:34 am

  2. How new (or old) is this law?
    Has it changed at all?
    Is it standard for all 50 states?

    Comment by santos on March 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm

  3. […] […]

    Pingback by More gun control - Gun and Game - Gun Forum on January 4, 2014 at 9:42 pm

  4. Well, I think they should be able to carry them, I think everyone should be able to! Unless you voted for Obama! May God have mercy on your souls.

    Comment by Richard Jackets on January 15, 2014 at 10:02 am

  5. I am a combat veteran diagnosed with PTSD. I find that my diagnosis does not limit my maturity or judgment when handling all of my weapons. This is the exact reason why I do not register any of my guns at all! It is just another gun grab, and now the focus is on my brother and sister veterans who served their time honorably and with great poise.

    No matter what Federal Code Section blah blah blah says, I will not surrender my guns to ANY person whatsoever. If you want them so bad, come and get them!

    Comment by J. Pera on February 14, 2014 at 8:12 pm

  6. These are people who are usually faced with far too many problems on their plate for
    them eat. Some people with agoraphobia turn to substance abuse in order to cope with fear, guilt,
    hopelessness and isolation. This flawed or negative thinking is the result of an
    ooveractive and negative imagination taking hold of your
    daily life.

    Comment by Panic Attack on February 22, 2014 at 7:19 am

  7. […] googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1373474439452-2'); }); I'm not about to read the entire article, but this may be a good stepping stone for you: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (& Depression) and Possessing a Firearm: The Basics […]

    Pingback by Ptsd on March 4, 2014 at 7:13 pm

  8. I believe that having PTSD has no business involving a citizens inalienable right to bear arms and all that give in to this Tyranny will seal their fate. All that don’t and fight it court wise or street wise. there will be no confiscation or some agency is going to lose a lot of people and on top of that, its pointless law anyway, since criminals will always own guns. Veterans are what we need and especially those that know combat in the case that our own Government possibly turns on us. All Tyranny will be destroyed in the end and those left standing will know!

    Comment by viking with ptsd on March 12, 2014 at 10:03 pm

  9. Is everyone diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder by the VA reported to the nics to stop them from purchasing firearms
    thank you

    Comment by joe on April 3, 2014 at 7:10 pm

  10. […] This might help: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (& Depression) and Possessing a Firearm: The Basics […]

    Pingback by Using PTSD To Deny You The Right To Own A Gun - Shooters Forum on November 10, 2014 at 1:01 pm

  11. Great article. Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out an ATF form 4473, I found a blank form here This site PDFfiller also has some tutorials how to fill it out and a few related ATF forms that you might find useful.

    Comment by Paul Davidson on November 14, 2014 at 3:51 pm

  12. […] of combat related PTSD affect your 2nd Amendment rights? You might want to read this analysis: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (& Depression) and Possessing a Firearm: The Basics and a specific case: –Documents "11. On or about 23/24 December 2012 in the late […]

    Pingback by Will this ever get passed: H.R.577 - Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act on December 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm

  13. This law, if enforced will affect:

    All U.S. Military who been into violent situation/ battle. And what this law does is tell our government and our military – soldiers can only serve in battle/ fire fight – that that our soldiers need to be sent home because they can no longer hold any weapon.


    Law enforce officer who come to a violent Domestic Dispute, officers who are in a Riot – rocks and bottles being thrown at them, who have been in a car chase, who have been to car accidents, who have been in Gun battles, and also those officers who have been shot or wounded.

    and to top it all off – I think Barack Hussein Obama – since being President, has given every American citizen PTSD of some sort…

    Comment by Cary on January 27, 2016 at 3:55 pm

  14. All those regulatory written laws can confuse anybody and after all this laws are to change every time.

    As far as I know there are many of Deputies, Police Officers, Federal Officers, Detectives, FBI, CIA both active, former or retired who have PTSD who voluntarily admitted themselves to outpatient psych.

    They still have their registered firearms and Conceal Weapons Permit for the retired ones with PTSD.

    Comment by Dan Donovan on May 28, 2016 at 6:36 pm

  15. wasn’t kris kyle killed by a veteran with ptsd, and if you’re getting disability for a mental disorder , maybe you should give up you disability if you think you should be trusted with a weapon

    Comment by Brian Snyder on February 21, 2017 at 9:48 am

  16. First of all….it is untrue that the largest percentage of those with PTSD are veterans or have had anything to do with war. The most predictable demographic to be diagnosed are victims of childhood/developmental chronic abuse. Complex (developmental) PTSD presents w much more widespread symptomtology than even PTSD from a (single or even series) of traumatic events in adulthood after having had a secure childhood experience. Obviously the combination of trauma layers from early life and again in adult life, complicates it further.
    Regardless, what legislation is saying here is “If you have been a victim of something so traumatic that it has remdered you with any form of PTSD, then you may no longer have the right to obtain a firearm to forthwith protect yourself from even more trauma”. You’ve already been helpless and powerless and tortured by someone… you are not allowed to own the most effective form of self protection. Even if someone w PTSD occasionally (even chronically) falls into suicidal ideation and could ‘possibly’ be said to be a danger, on any contiuum, to themselves….should they not have the right to protect themselves from others? Should someone at least maintain their right to make their own choices and have the power to ensure others do not usurp that? How ridiculous and oxymoronic to rob someone w PTSD of safety from others.

    Comment by SidneyD30 on April 7, 2017 at 8:08 pm

  17. GOOD.

    Comment by concealed carry class on July 28, 2017 at 6:57 am

  18. I was diagnosed with PTSD after the death of my husband. He died in my arms after stage 4 cancer had spread. I am not a violent person. My husband died and I was severely depressed. And have always had anxiety. I was also a child that was molestation.. Believe it or not rape is a violent Crime. So many children have ptsd as they grow up and not even know it or not been diagnosed. I’m a widow I should have a right to protect my body and my property with a firearm. I’ve never been in trouble my entire life.

    Comment by C Cherry on October 18, 2017 at 11:55 am

  19. if you are mentally unstable you can’t have guns. Ptsd alone won’t ban you from having guns. If you are cleared mentally you can have them. I asked a lawyer and that was his response.

    Comment by guns by law on November 14, 2017 at 2:23 am

  20. Thing about P T S D is when it favors a military vet to get benefits it is all great like getting a retirement after a short stent in the military doing an air force job in computers or controls etc. Now these persons deemed mentally unfit for military service want their rights all in a roll as a normal individual or Military serviceman that has towed the line? I think they should be corralled in the mental unfit category and denied certain benefits as firearm owner ship as they can snap and murder innocent people. They were proven mentally unfit for their medical benefits paid by majority fit working citizens.

    Comment by Mike MarczyK on December 24, 2017 at 4:42 pm

  21. This is in response to Mike Marczyk PTSD does not preclude you from reenlisting. I have several Veteran friends that have PTSD and still continue to serve, I am offended that you feel they only claim it for “free” money. You sir are part of the problem

    Comment by kevin holmberg on March 3, 2018 at 3:59 pm

  22. To Mike Marcyyk: you have no idea what you are talking about. Most military personal deemed to be suffering from PTSD have fulfilled their military commitment. Many suffered severe wounds and have ongoing medical issues. They have left the service for being mentally unfit and I would guess that very few were in an Air Force job in computers. There are few if any cases of Vets with PTSD snapping and murdering innocent people. You should be banned from owning weapons based on your arrogant stupidity.

    Comment by John on March 3, 2018 at 11:10 pm

  23. It is unfair to say every veteran with mental problems unfit to own a weapon! I for one has been unfairly treated by the VA, FBI, Obama etc. for they all tried and failed to take away my rights but their efforts has made me and others fearful, angry flr their illegal efforts.
    I agree that i needed to have my son handle my fiancial affairs because of brain damage and seizures. These people are only trying to hurt us further and do make some of us to take their own lives for we have done nothing wrong then fight for our country. But if i feel i am a threat to others i will give up my firearms to other family members stating that i should not have access to them. But i have also steeped up and disarmed an active shooter by hand to hand measures and asked for nothing then a thank you from the State patrol. So give me a break i will defend others by any means necessary even if costs my life. Will others do the same?

    Comment by James Alto on March 24, 2018 at 9:37 pm

  24. I’m in Texas and I’m 100% P&T, 70% diagnosed with complex PTSD. I’ve been seeing my Veteran Counselor regularly for over 2 1/2 years and my VA Psychiatrist for about the same amount of time. My Vet Counselor knows me better than anyone— when I first started seeing him I was sucicidal— I had to have a sucicide contract… I was really bad off… I had alcohol abuse… I can’t believe he stuck with me — he’s the reason I’m here and that I still have my kids— they actually left and told me until I got help, they couldn’t be around me… I’ve worked really hard to walk through things I didn’t wanna walk through… but I’m here today. He’s a tough cookie too— never let me get away with anything— I’ve gone across the desk after him during some sessions… like I said… it’s been a long, hard road… I take my meds— I’ve learned a lot— I’m not the same person I once was— and I love my Sig!!! And when I wanted to get it, he was OK with me doing so, and told me that he felt that I was actually in a good place and it was OK for me to have it— is gone through time where I was on the Veteran Crisis Line at 3 am because I didn’t think I was gonna make it to my appointment with him at 9 am that SAME morning… so yeah— bad times. But I hit the range, and now I want my CHL… but on the application it asks if you’re diagnosed with PTSD and I hear that’s an automatic denial… everyone tells me to lie and say “No”— but Inwont do that. PLUS, if I ever DID have to use my firearm, the FIRST thing any attorney will do ( we have four in the family), is look up your CHL application, go through it with a fine tooth comb, and dig in your background and while your psychiatric history is a little more protected then everything else, they can STILL get it, and when they find out that your LIED about being diagnosed with PTSD, they’re gonna find out that you should’ve never had a CHL, and then your ass is gonna be in some severe trouble, even though you were just protecting yourself— you can ACTUALLY be charged with manslaughter if you kill someone that you’re protecting yourself from, because you’ve lied on your CHL… and I live in Texas… where 98% of us live within TEN MILES of an authorized firearms dealer!! SO— in WHAT state, can I apply for a CHL, that is reciprocal to TX??? Because that’s about the only backdoor manner I can see that I have— I have NO problem taking the CHL class— I welcome it… but I DO have a problem paying the fee for an application that I KNOW will be denied simply because I answer “yes” to a question…

    Comment by Samantha on August 19, 2018 at 9:41 pm

  25. Got home from Vietnam in 1971 after twenty two months in combat. Was nineteen and I chould not vote, drink, have a wife, or buy a car after coming home as a combat Sargent because I was not 21. I could buy a gun though.
    PTSD is given to people all the time now and I didn’t know i had a problem until Asking for medical help at the VA and was refused because They said I needed a medical condition.
    Now 100% disabled, 70% ptsd, 30% unable to work because I pass out from agent orange.
    What I don’t get is why Veterans can’t get help for damage from Fighting and everyone else is not denied because doctors don’t report them?

    Comment by Wes brown on November 16, 2018 at 11:24 am

  26. 2 years ago my PTSD went crazy and I tried self-medicating with drugs. I was involuntarily committed for 2 weeks. All I had was a .22 and a 9mm but I gave them away. I’m better now but still rated 100% so I don’t even fool with getting any more firearms. I’m clean for over 2 years and my PTSD is controllable. I love target shooting and would love to own guns again one day, but for now I figure the government would screw me somehow if I even tried.

    Comment by Scooter Armstrong on March 21, 2019 at 6:34 am

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Table of Contents

About the author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bryan L. Ciyou is a trial and appellate attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. He earned his BA with distinction and graduated through the honors program, along with his JD,... Read More