The Obama administration issued a pair of new executive actions Friday aimed at keeping guns out of potentially dangerous hands by limiting firearms access to those with mental illness and making it easier for states to report mental illness information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
One proposed White House action claims the terminology used by federal law to prohibit people from purchasing a firearm for certain mental health reasons is ambiguous. Therefore, the Department of Justice suggests changing the term "committed to a mental institution" to include "involuntary inpatient as well as outpatient commitments."
The second proposal would allow entities covered by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act's (HIPAA) privacy provisions to submit additional information to the background check system regarding individuals prohibited from purchasing a firearm for mental health reasons. The Department of Health and Human Services says this rule would not require reporting on a patient's general mental health care or legally prohibit someone from owning a gun solely for seeking treatment.
"There is a strong public safety need for this information to be accessible to the NICS, and some states are currently under-reporting or not reporting certain information to the NICS at all," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "This proposed rulemaking is carefully balanced to protect and preserve individuals' privacy interests, the patient-provider relationship, and the public's health and safety."
The executive actions announcement Friday comes on the heels of new state gun laws that went into effect on Jan. 1 limiting magazine size in Connecticut and expanding firearm registration law in California.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, released the following statement today on the Obama administration's announcement Friday:
"These important executive actions will strengthen our criminal background check system and go a long way towards helping make sure guns don't get into the wrong hands. The evidence shows background checks work when they are used. Last year, background checks identified and denied 88,000 sales to prohibited purchasers at licensed dealers. However, there is no way of knowing if those 88,000 prohibited purchasers, after being denied at a licensed dealer, then bought a gun at a gun show or over the Internet with no questions asked. This is a huge loophole that costs lives, and that's why we need to pass my bipartisan background check bill expanding comprehensive and enforceable criminal background checks to cover commercial firearm sales such as those at gun shows and over the Internet."
The National Rifle Association told BuzzFeed it has "no comment until we see actual language" regarding the White House's executive actions.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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