Doctors can report some mentally ill patients to FBI under new gun control rule
The rule, published Jan. 4, was one of a series of steps that President Barack Obama had called for in January 2013 in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings. | AP Photo
Delivering on its promise to deliver “common sense” gun control, the Obama administration on Monday finalized a rule that enables health care providers to report the names of mentally ill patients to an FBI firearms background check system.
The action was one of a series of steps that President Barack Obama had called for in January 2013 in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings to curb gun violence, but the rule was not published until today.
While the 1993 Brady law prohibits gun ownership by individuals who have been involuntarily committed, found incompetent to stand trial or otherwise deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves or others, federal health care privacy rules prohibited doctors and other providers from sharing information without the consent of their patients.
Under the rule, which takes effect next month, for the first time health providers can disclose the information to the background check system without legal repercussions.
“The disclosure is restricted to limited demographic and certain other information needed for NICS purposes,” the rule states. Disclosure of diagnostic or clinical information is prohibited.
Paul Gionfriddo, chief executive of the mental health rights advocate Mental Health America, said he believes the White House strikes the right balance between the need to have this information shared with the FBI’s background check system and protecting individuals’ privacy.
Current law allows HIPAA exclusions for law enforcement purposes, but it’s a broad exclusion.
“That could be a barn door opened quite wide if an administration really wanted to open it, and they didn’t,” Gionfriddo said. “The administration has taken great pain to try to clarify that there is very limited information that would be reported only within a very limited group.”
Since the Newtown shootings, the number of mental health records submitted to the FBI system has tripled to more than 3 million records, according to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety, a group promoting an end to gun violence. The FBI system resulted in more than 6,000 denials of firearm purchases because of mental health criteria.