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Executive Actions Emphasize Importance Of Background Checks To Prevent Gun Violence


New proposed rule is key recommendation from consortium of mental health and gun violence prevention leaders.

In January 2014, the Obama administration announced a set of two executive actions that can improve the background check system for gun purchases. One proposed rule would clarify the language of a federal law to confirm that individuals who are ordered to receive outpatient treatment for mental illness are prohibited from purchasing a gun. The proposed rule is a key recommendation from Guns, Public Health and Mental Illness: An Evidence-Based Approach for Federal Policy, a report by the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy.

Composed of gun violence prevention and mental and public health experts including several Joyce grantees, the Consortium offered evidence-based recommendations to reduce gun violence by persons who are at greater risk of causing harm to themselves or to others. Currently, individuals who have been committed to an institution for mental health care are disqualified from purchasing a firearm. The proposed rule would clarify this restriction to include those who are ordered by a court to receive outpatient care for mental illness.

A second proposed rule would allow hospitals and other institutions covered by patient privacy provisions to submit additional information to the firearm background check system.

In a statement, Consortium member Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, said:

"The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence commends the administration for taking these important steps to ensure that guns don’t end up in the hands of those at an elevated risk of harm to self or others, and we are proud that today’s first executive action—clarifying what it means to be “committed to a mental institution”—was recommended last month by the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, a team of leading public and mental health experts, which we helped to organize.

"The action to ensure patient privacy while also clarifying that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is not a barrier to the states putting adjudications related to federal mental health disqualifiers into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System will go a long way to increasing public safety.

"However, there is still much work ahead to make sure guns are not accessible to people who are at a high risk of violence, and we call, not only on the administration and Congress, but also on state legislatures and governors, to pursue evidence-based policy changes to help stop gun violence."

Mental illness increases the risk of suicide, and a firearm is used in half of all of completed suicides in the U.S. The Consortium report recommended that individuals who are ordered by the courts to receive outpatient mental health care should be disqualified from purchasing a firearm. The report also called for a fair process to restore those rights when an individual no longer poses a significant risk to themselves or others.  A second report from the Consortium, Guns, Public Health and Mental Illness: An Evidence-based Approach for State Policy, makes recommendations for state level reforms.

The Joyce Foundation Gun Violence Prevention Program is committed to improving public safety and supports evidence-based policies to prevent gun violence. The Foundation is a long-time supporter of efforts to improve the background check system.

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