Proposed Rules Clarify NICS Background Check Reporting
Today, the Obama Administration announced two new proposed regulations related to the long-established National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), clarifying who is prohibited from possessing a firearm for reasons of involuntary commitment to emergency mental health treatment.
Federal NICS reporting requirements have long been the subject of controversy and confusion in the states. Ambiguity in terminology and a lack of clarity about how the privacy protections of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) apply to NICS reporting have left states and consumers uncertain about what information must be reported to NICS and what rights consumers retain under this system.
To address this ambiguity, the Department of Justice issued a proposed rule that provides definitions for ambiguous terminology currently used in federal law and helps states better understand the circumstances in which information must be reported. At the same time, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a proposed rule that expressly gives certain HIPAA-covered entities permission to submit limited information to NICS – authority these entities already possessed under existing law, but which was not clearly delineated.
These clarifications are a positive step; yet, it is important to remember that people living with mental illness are no more likely than other Americans to perpetrate violence. In fact, they are at increased risk for being victims of violence. As a nation, we must engage in further dialogue about mental health, making sure not to restrict the rights of people with mental illness or create barriers to help -seeking.
The National Council calls on Congress and the Obama Administration to make much-needed investments in our mental health system that will ensure all Americans can receive treatment when and where they need it. We urge lawmakers to approve the bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health Act, authored by Senators Debbie Stabenow and Roy Blunt and Representatives Doris Matsui and Leonard Lance.