Obama Proposes Increased Limits on Gun Sales to Mentally Ill
A year after a tragic massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, capped off a year of notable mass murders, the Obama administration last week announced two steps to change existing laws limiting gun sales to mentally ill people.
The Justice Department (DOJ) unveiled a regulation to strengthen the Gun Control Act of 1968, which bars anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution” from receiving, possessing, shipping or transporting firearms. Admitting that terms like “mental defective” are “outdated,” DOJ proposes to clarify that the statute covers “persons who are found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, lack of mental responsibility, or insanity, and that the term includes persons found guilty but mentally ill.” The rule would also “clarify that the statutory term ‘committed to a mental institution’ applies to involuntary inpatient or outpatient treatment.”
“We are taking an important, commonsense step to clarify the federal firearms regulations, which will strengthen our ability to keep dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands,” said a statement released by Attorney General Eric Holder.
Meanwhile the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule to shore up the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which prevents gun sales to felons, domestic abusers, and mentally ill people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. The new rule would alter the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule to allow certain health care entities to give NICS the names of persons barred by federal law from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
“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,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a press statement. “This proposed rulemaking is carefully balanced to protect and preserve individuals’ privacy interests, the patient-provider relationship, and the public’s health and safety.”
Although HHS claimed that its proposal would not legally prohibit someone who has sought help for mental health problems from having a gun, and the White House issued a statement stressing that most people who experience mental illness are not violent, mental health advocates argue that measures like these unfairly stigmatize mental illness.
Dr. Paul Summergrad, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, told health blogger Carey Goldberg that the term “the mentally ill” is an “often stigmatized category…[that] creates a sense of otherness that is not the reality, statistically, of these illnesses,” which mostly do not cause violent behavior. The concern of many is that regulations like these will cover persons with no history of violence who have suffered bouts of depression or other disorders.
To Learn More:
New Limits Proposed for Mentally Ill Gun Buyers (by Annie Youderian, Courthouse News)
White House Suggests New Rules to Keep Mentally Ill People from Buying Guns (by Sabrina Eaton, Cleveland Plain Dealer)
A Phrase To Renounce For 2014: ‘The Mentally Ill’ (by Carey Goldberg, WBUR)
Would Gun Background Checks Clash with Health Privacy Laws? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
Gun Industry Doesn’t Need a Majority to Stop Background Checks and “Straw” Purchases (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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