HHS, DOJ Changing Guidelines on Gun Purchases Related to Mental Illness

Despite all the talk of how violent media has influenced recent shootings – including the most recent one at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut –  the White House is moving on dealing with gun access to individuals who suffer from "sever metal illnesses."

At least two federal agencies plan to modify regulations to make it more difficult for people with severe mental illness to gain access to firearms by revising regulations on background checks and by allowing medical professionals to disclose certain information. The Justice Department and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced plans to revise regulations to improve the background check system for "severely mentally ill people" who request to own or work with firearms.

The changes are the result of executive orders announced last January by President Obama. At the time he said these orders would "address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system."

With the mandate from the president, the HHS plans to change the HIPPA privacy rules to allow health care entities and professionals to disclose the identities of people who are ineligible to own firearms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Those subject to these changes were "involuntarily committed to a mental institution; found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity; or otherwise have been determined by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others or to lack the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease."

"Under the HHS proposal, only covered entities with lawful authority to make adjudication or commitment decisions that make individuals subject to the federal mental health prohibitor, or that serve as repositories of information for NICS reporting purposes, would be permitted to disclose the information needed for these purposes."

The information would be limited to whether or not an individual is subject to a federal mental health prohibitor, and demographic information, according to the action. Individuals deemed to have a mental health prohibitor may not ship, transport, posses, or receive a firearm, according to the action.

Public comments on the proposed regulation are due by March 10.

On a related note, the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced plans to clarify the categories of people prohibited from buying firearms under the 1968 Gun Control Act. The agency proposed changing the definition of "adjudicated as a mental defective" to clarify its meaning as someone "found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect." The agency also plans on clarifying that the designation "committed to a mental institution" under the law applies to people who received any kind of involuntary inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment.

The agency seeks public comments about how these rules apply to people who were involuntarily committed while minors. Comments on the proposed regulation are due by April 7.

Source: Courthouse News

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