Published on January 4 among the other executive actions taken by President Barack Obama to further restrict gun sales, there is one provision that may be of concern not only to gun rights advocates but also for those concerned about personal privacy. In order to deliver what Obama called “common sense” gun controls, the White House has finalized rules that will allow health care providers to report the names of patients receiving mental health care to law enforcement authorities to be entered into an FBI database. In turn, the FBI would use that database to determine whether or not the patients may be authorized to purchase firearms.
The so-called Brady Law, which was put into effect in 1993 following the attempted murder of President Ronald Reagan, already prohibits gun ownership by people who have been involuntarilty committed to a mental health facility, found incompetent to stand trial, or deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. Until now, federal health care rules on privacy prohibited healthcare providers such as physicians to disclose information without their patients’ information.
The new rule takes effect in February 2016. It will allow health providers, for the first time, to disclose information to law enforcement without patient consent. However, the release of diagnostic or clinical information remains prohibited. The rule states, “The disclosure is restricted to limited demographic and certain other information needed for NICS purposes.” The National Instant Criminal Background Check, operated by the FBI, was mandated under the Brady Bill.
Paul Gionfriddo of Mental Health America, and advocacy group, said he believes the White House struck a balance between citizens’ rights and the FBI’s need to know. However, he added “That could be a barn door opened quite wide if an administration really wanted to open it, and they didn’t.”
Since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, the number of mental health records provided to the FBI system has tripled to more than 3 million records, according to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety, an anti-gun lobby. The FBI has denied than 6,000 firearm purchases because of mental health criteria.
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