Does the “Mental Illness” Argument Muddy Waters on Gun-Ownership Debate?

Does the "Mental Illness" Argument Muddy Waters on Gun-Ownership Debate?

With the proliferation of mass shootings across the country, it’s no wonder that there is increased debate about the issue of mental illness when it comes to gun ownership. The statement that is often heard is that “guns don’t kill people, people do.”  But guns make it easier to kill, especially on a large scale, and mental illness may increase the chances that people will wind up using them, frequently against themselves.

While there are many ways to kill people, there is no doubt that guns are the most effective, deadly and accurate method to commit violence. Eighty percent of people considering suicide and over half the number of mass shooters in the past two decades reportedly showed signs of mental illness before an incident occurred, according to the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. Consequently, there are both federal and Illinois laws against the mentally ill possessing firearms.

Illinois takes gun violations seriously, and punishments can be severe. If you or a loved one suffers from a mental illness and has been accused of violating the law, or if you have been accused of selling or providing firearms to someone with a mental illness, you need the help of an experienced attorney.

The seasoned and compassionate Illinois gun violation attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd, know Illinois gun laws, the judges, the courts and the system and can protect your rights by defending you against firearms offenses. Clients in Woodridge and throughout the Chicagoland area turn to us for aggressive criminal defense representation.

We offer a free consultation, so contact us to discuss your individual firearms violation situation with a skilled attorney who understands Illinois gun laws and your Second Amendment rights.

What the Laws Say

Federal law prohibits certain people with a mental illness from purchasing or possessing firearms. Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)it is unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.”

In addition to federal law, Illinois has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and they are constantly evolving. lllinois gun laws require residents to have a valid Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card to legally possess a firearm or ammunition.

To obtain a FOID card, you must submit an application to the state police department. The Illinois State Police checks the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to determine whether the applicant has a criminal record, is addicted to controlled substances, is mentally impaired, or there are other situations that would make the person ineligible to own a firearm. Once the FOID card is issued, the State Police checks the FBI system every 24 hours and revokes the card of anyone who has incurred a recent infraction.

With respect to mental illness, Illinois will deny a FOID card to people who have been adjudicated as mentally disabled, defined as follows:

  • A person whose mental condition (meaning a state of mind manifested by violent, suicidal, threatening, or assaultive behavior) is of such a nature that it poses a clear and present danger to self, others, or the community.
  • A person who is intellectually disabled (defined by Illinois law as having “significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning which exists concurrently with impairment in adaptive behavior and which originates before the age of 18 years.
  • A person involuntarily admitted into a mental health facility.

The law forbids people considered mentally disabled to own guns and ammunition.  According to 720 Ill. Rev. Stat. § 5/24-3.1.:  “People commit the offense of unlawful possession of firearms or firearm ammunition when they have been a patient in a mental institution within the past 5 years or have an intellectual disability and possess any firearms or firearm ammunition.”

Selling or delivering firearms to people considered mentally disabled is also forbidden.  Under 720 Ill. Rev. Stat. § 5/24-3: A person commits the offense of unlawful sale or delivery of firearms when they knowingly sell or give any firearm to any person who has been a patient in a mental institution within the past 5 years, or to any person who is a person with an intellectual disability.


Gun violations punishments vary, depending on the circumstances.  Possession can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony.

  • A first offense for knowingly carrying or possessing firearms is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
  • A second offense becomes a Class 3 felony, with punishment of up to 5 years in prison.
  • If possession takes place somewhere licensed to sell liquor, it becomes a Class 4 penalty, punishable by up to 3 years in jail.
  • If the possession is of a machine gun, it can be a Class 2 felony with penalties of up to 7 years in prison. If the machine gun is loaded, it becomes a Class X felony, with possibility of up to 30 years in prison.
  • If possession is of a sawed-off shotgun, it is a Class 3 felony; and if possession takes place while hooded, robed or masked, it is a Class 4 felony.

If the violation is for aggravated firearm discharge, including discharging at or into an occupied building or vehicle, or knowingly shooting at an official, it can be prosecuted as a Class X felony, with no chance of getting parole.

Contact Us For Help and Guidance

If you have been accused of any gun violations in Illinois, whether or not mental illness is involved, you need legal assistance.  Many gun or weapons offenses, especially those related to the commission of another crime while in possession of a gun, carry mandatory prison terms. Charges such as armed violence, armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, and home invasion carry increased penalties if a firearm was used.

The Illinois gun crime lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique with its own set of circumstances. We know the judges and the court system and will aggressively explore every avenue for your defense.

Don’t delay — contact us for a free consultation today if you have been accused of any gun charges. Our Illinois gun crimes lawyers represent clients in DuPage County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Bolingbrook, Illinois. 

Attorney Marc Wolfe

Marc Wolfe has been representing clients in criminal matters in Chicago and the entire State of Illinois for over 30 years. Mr. Wolfe has tried over 300 cases to verdict and represents clients facing investigation or prosecution for a broad range of state and federal criminal offenses, including murder, embezzlement, sexual abuse, drugs, marijuana and white collar crimes. [ Attorney Bio ]