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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Executive Gun Order Clarifies Existing Law on Reporting Mental Illness

January 7, 2016 | Justice | Privacy & HIPAA | Comments
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This week, the Obama administration announced a series of Executive Orders aimed at reducing gun violence. Among its many provisions, the rule clarifies existing federal law on the required reporting of mental health information to the federal government background-checks system for gun purchases. As under current law, the new regulation does not require physicians directly involved in patient care to engage in the reporting process, but instead gives state agencies improved flexibility to report pertinent information.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database does not collect an individual’s detailed treatment information, diagnoses or other health data. It simply contains the information that an individual is prohibited from purchasing a firearm for mental health reasons. A person can be deemed ineligible to purchase a firearm because they have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution; have been found incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of insanity; or have been determined through an adjudication process to have a severe mental health condition.

According the Department of Health and Human Services, restrictions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevented some states from reporting to the NICS the identities of people subject to the mental health prohibitor. This action clarifies that reporting is allowed and encouraged under HIPAA.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, mental health prohibitions are the eighth-most-common reason people have been denied access to firearms by NICS. Since 1998, more than 21,000 background checks were denied due to adjudicated mental health prohibitions.