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Should Offenders Deemed 'Mentally Incompetent' Be Allowed to Own or Purchase Guns?

California State Assembly Member Matt Haney’s AB 2629 will close a loophole in existing law that allows people found mentally incompetent to stand trial to purchase and buy guns — but is this move constitutional?

Article Written by Sara Chan

In an effort to address public safety, Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation that bans all individuals whose mental illness leads them to being found mentally incompetent to stand trial from possessing or purchasing firearms.

The bill has passed out of the Assembly Public Safety committee with strong bipartisan support. 

The United States consistently remains one of the only countries with a persistent problem with gun violence. People in the United States are 25 times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than those living in other developed countries. Since 2014, California has had more than 12,000 gun homicides.

“If you aren’t mentally competent enough to stand trial for a crime, then you aren’t mentally competent enough to own a gun,” said Haney. “It’s common sense.”

Currently, if a court finds that a person's mental illness makes them incompetent to stand trial during a felony criminal proceeding, the person is banned from buying or owning firearms until the court restores those rights.

However, current law only enforces a firearm ban in felony criminal cases – individuals deemed mentally incompetent in misdemeanor cases continue to retain their firearm rights and the findings are not being reported to the Department of Justice.

“People suffering from debilitatingly severe mental illnesses should not have access to a weapon that can take their own life or the life of other people around them in seconds,” said Haney. “That poses a serious threat to both our communities and to these people themselves.”

This piece of legislation comes in response to a series of incidents involving firearms and individuals who were deemed mentally incompetent. A recent example of this issue happened in Santa Monica, where a person publicly brandished a loaded firearm registered under their name, leading to their arrest for misdemeanor gun possession charges.

Upon arrest, the firearm was confiscated by the police department. The person's mental competency was questioned in criminal court, so the case was moved to a mental health court. There, the individual was found incompetent to stand trial. The case was eventually dismissed, even though the person's mental competency was not restored.

Following the dismissal, the defendant fixated on the prosecutor, confronting them at Santa Monica City Hall. Concerned, the prosecutor checked with the police department, only to discover that the defendant's gun had been returned, despite their mental incompetency ruling.

Upon realizing the oversight, a search warrant uncovered multiple firearms, including armor-piercing bullets, bulletproof armor, semi-automatic rifles, and pistols, belonging to the defendant.

“This important legislation closes a loophole in our laws to ensure that individuals found mentally unfit to stand trial due to a severe mental condition cannot buy or possess firearms until their mental competency has been legally reinstated,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “To protect against both intentional and unintentional shootings, we must ensure that firearms are possessed only by individuals who can responsibly comply with our gun safety laws and who can be held accountable for unlawful conduct. I am thankful for our partnerships that allow us to continue to build on California’s lifesaving progress against gun violence.”

AB 2629 would clarify that firearm bans apply in any case where a person is found mentally incompetent to stand trial, regardless of whether the underlying charge is a felony or misdemeanor.

The key factor is the individual's mental health status, not the specific crime, making it logical to consistently apply the gun bans in all cases of mental incompetency.

In a related story, check out the New York Times Gun Violence Archive published today, which tells the story of gun violence more granularly with data from neighborhood by neighborhood, instead of city by city. It's an outstanding resource all Gen Z voters should check out before the big election this November.

What are your thoughts? Please share this article with your comments.

Sara Chan (she/her) is a contributing writer for and a full-time political consultant based in Los Angeles, CA. She received her B.A. in Political Science from UC Berkeley and is currently working towards her Master's Degree in Global Studies & International Relations from Northeastern University. She is a proud member of the California Democratic Party and helps local politicians around the country craft bespoke campaign messaging and concise platforms that appeal to voters of various backgrounds.


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