Last week, President Obama announced a set of “New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer.” As part of this initiative, the Administration proposes to increase mental health treatment by $500 million. The initiative also includes two actions to increase reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The NICS is a federal database used to help identify people who are prohibited by gun control laws from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving a firearm. The law and regulations broadly define who is subject to the mental health prohibition, including:
- Individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution for reasons such as mental illness or drug use;
- Found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity; or
- Otherwise determined by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others or unable to manage their own affairs, as a result of “marked subnormal intelligence”, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.
As part of the initiative announced last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published final rules, effective February 5, 2016, modifying the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to allow some covered entities to report information to the NICS. Additionally, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will propose rules to report information to the NICS about Social Security beneficiaries with mental impairments who have representative payees to manage their Social Security benefits.
The Arc is concerned about the well-being of all Americans. As an organization that protects and promotes the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), The Arc is also concerned about the potential for these actions to impact people with mental disabilities, including people with I/DD, who are not currently prohibited by law from purchasing firearms. The Arc will be closely monitoring implementation of the HHS final rules and will review and comment on any proposed rules by SSA.