The Obama administration is kicking off the new year with two executive actions meant to strengthen background checks on gun purchases.
The new actions, issued as proposed rules by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services on Friday, are aimed at removing any legal barriers that may prevent states from submitting personal information to the federal background check system.
While the proposals were entered into the federal registry on Friday, they must now go through the rest of the approval process before officially taking effect. The issuing agencies will open the process for public comments and analyze those comments before issuing a final rule.
The new language from the Justice Department attempts to clarify how individuals are classified as prohibited from buying a firearm due to mental health issues. Under the new rule, a person would be considered as having been committed to a mental institution if they were treated involuntarily on either an inpatient or outpatient basis.
A fact sheet released by the White House stated that this new clarification will "help states determine what information should be made accessible to the federal background check system," which will strengthen the value of the system overall.
The new rule proposed by HHS has a similar aim. According to the administration, some states have pointed to barriers presented by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that affect their ability to turn over certain mental health information. After reviewing the potential problems presented by HIPAA for nearly a year, HHS is proposing new language to address these barriers.
According to the White House fact sheet, the proposed rule would give groups governed by HIPAA "express permission to submit to the background check system the limited information necessary to help keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands."
Perhaps in an attempt to address criticisms that this new rule is overreaching, the administration's explanation goes on to state, "the proposed rule will not change the fact that seeking help for mental health problems or getting treatment does not make someone legally prohibited from having a firearm."
It also explains that the new rule would not require reporting on "general mental health visits or other routine mental health care" or exempt providers of such treatment from current privacy rules.