Obama proposes new gun control background checks for the mentally ill

US government plans to increase background checks in a legal effort to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing firearms

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 2:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 2:28pm

The Obama administration proposed two new federal gun control rules on Friday to ensure more information about the mentally ill reaches background check databases, after a series of high-profile US shootings.

The rules come on top of a series of executive actions President Barack Obama announced after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting that left 20 young children and six staff dead in December 2012.

The massacre relaunched a push for gun control laws in America and a handful of states have since tightened gun rules.

But the national measures Obama sought, including a plan for enhanced background checks on gun buyers and a ban on assault-style rifles, failed in the US Senate in April due to fierce opposition from gun rights supporters.

“Passing common-sense gun safety legislation ... remains the most important step we can take to reduce gun violence.”
White House statment

In the first nine months of last year following a presidential directive, federal agencies provided more than 1.2 million records identifying persons prohibited from buying or owning guns for mental health reasons, the White House said.

The figure is a 23 per cent increase from the number of records that federal agencies had made available by the end of 2012.

Under the new rules proposed by the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, the federal background check database would be able to access some mental health records, due to an exemption to existing privacy law.

The Justice Department is also proposing to “clarify” that people involuntarily held at inpatient and outpatient institutions should be barred from buying guns.

“Too many Americans have been severely injured or lost their lives as a result of gun violence,” the White House said.

“While the vast majority of Americans who experience a mental illness are not violent, in some cases when persons with a mental illness do not receive the treatment they need, the result can be tragedies.”

The White House renewed its call for congressional action, including expanding background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

“Passing common-sense gun safety legislation ... remains the most important step we can take to reduce gun violence,” it said.

“The vast majority of Americans support these critical measures, which would protect our children and our communities without infringing on anyone’s Second Amendment rights [to keep and bear arms].”

Despite the initiative, background checks are not required for the many private purchases that take place outside of licensed gun dealers, such as online or at gun shows.