Source: Press

Blocked by Congress from expanding gun sale background checks, President  Obama is turning to actions within his own power to keep people from buying a  gun who are prohibited for mental health reasons.

Federal law bans certain mentally ill people from purchasing firearms, but  not all states are providing data to stop the prohibited sales to the FBI’s  background check system. A federal review last year found 17 states contributed  fewer than 10 mental health records to the database, meaning many deemed by a  judge to be a danger still could have access to guns.

The Obama administration was starting a process Friday aimed at removing  barriers in health privacy laws that prevent some states from reporting  information to the background check system. The action comes two days after the  Senate rejected a measure that would have required buyers of firearms online and  at gun shows to pass a background check. That’s already required for shoppers at  licensed gun dealers.

Stung by the defeat, Obama vowed to keep up the fight for the background  check expansion but also to do what he could through executive action.

“Even without Congress, my administration will keep doing everything it can  to protect more of our communities,” Obama said from the Rose Garden shortly  after the Senate voted. “We’re going to address the barriers that prevent states  from participating in the existing background check system.”

Obama also mentioned giving law enforcement more information about lost and  stolen guns and establishing emergency plans for schools. Those measures were  among the 23 executive actions the president signed in January when he announced  his broader push for tighter gun laws in response to a mass shooting of  first-graders and staff at Newtown, Conn.‘s Sandy Hook Elementary  School.

The Health and Human Services Department on Friday was beginning to ask for  public comment on how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,  passed by Congress in 1996 and known as HIPAA, is preventing some states from  reporting to the background check system and how to address the problem. Under  HIPAA, health care providers such as hospitals may release limited information  to police, but only in certain circumstances such as when a court is  involved.

Since 1968, federal law has banned the sale of guns to those who have been  deemed a danger to themselves or others, involuntarily committed or judged not  guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial. The background check  system — which is also used to prevent convicted felons from buying guns — was  established under the 1993 Brady Bill.

A few state agencies shared mental health records voluntarily for years, but  the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 spurred passage of legislation that required  states to submit the records or eventually risk losing up to 5 percent of the  federal funding they receive to fight crime.

Last year’s review by the Government Accountability Office found that  although the number of mental health records available to the background check  system increased 800 percent since 2004, some states said they were not sharing  mental health information because of concerns about restrictions under HIPAA  privacy law. Obama is interested in a change that would specifically allow  disclosure of mental health records for the system, and he wants to increase  financial incentives for states to contribute the information.

In the Virginia Tech rampage, student Seung-Hui Cho shot 32 people to death  and committed suicide. He was able to buy two guns even though he had been ruled  a danger to himself during a court hearing in 2005 and was ordered to undergo  outpatient mental health treatment.

Authorities have not described a possible motive or released details of any  mental health condition that might explain why Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza  killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself. The rifle he used was  purchased by his mother, whom he also killed at home before heading to the  school.

The background check system does not give retailers access to mental health  records but simply tells them whether a buyer is approved, denied or needs  additional investigation before a firearm may be purchased. The system doesn’t  tell the seller why a potential buyer was denied.



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