New gun control rule: Docs can report certain patients with mental health issues to FBI

Effort aimed at improving background check system

The Obama administration on Monday finalized a rule detailing what information providers can disclose to the FBI's background check system without patients' consent and unveiled several new gun control executive actions.

Disclosure rule

The new background check disclosure rule, which takes effect next month, follows through on one of the executive actions President Obama announced in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 children and six adults were killed.

Under federal law, individuals are prohibited from owning a gun if they have been involuntarily committed, been ruled incompetent to stand trial, or have been found by a legal authority to be a danger to themselves or others.

The new rule aims to address the concerns of states and providers about whether releasing information on such patients with mental health issues to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) without content violates the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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Under the final rule, certain HIPAA-covered entities will be able to provide names, particular demographic information, and other details to NICS without patients' consent but cannot disclose clinical or diagnostic details. Providers will not be required to disclose the information.

New executive actions, proposals

Meanwhile, the White House also announced new proposals aimed at reducing gun violence, including broadening the definition of a gun dealer who would need to administer background checks. The administration also:

  • Said the Social Security Administration would start the rulemaking process for providing NICS with information about beneficiaries who are prohibited from owning firearms for mental health reasons; and
  • Proposed an additional $500 million investment to improve access to mental health care, which would require congressional approval.

"While individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America's mental health system," the White House said in a fact sheet. "In addition to helping people get the treatment they need, we must make sure we keep guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them" (Pittman, Politico, 1/4; White House fact sheet, 1/4; McCain Nelson/Fields, Wall Street Journal, 1/5).

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