Under federal law, people who have been involuntarily “committed to a mental institution” — however long ago — are barred from possessing guns. Congress agreed that people with long-past mental problems might now be sane, and thus not especially dangerous, and provided for a means to apply for restoration of gun rights. But then in 1992 Congress ordered ATF not to spend any money applying the restoration program. And while it provided, in 2007, that people could get their rights restored by applying to a state that has a qualifying program for evaluating applicants’ mental fitness, many states have no such program.
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