Administration Proposes Fixes To Gun Background Check System

A year after Newtown school shooting

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Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive to light 26 candles honoring the 26 students and teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., at the White House in Washington, December 14, 2013.

More than a year after the Newtown school shooting, the Obama administration on Friday announced two proposed rule changes to improve the federal background check system to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues.

The White House said the Department of Justice is taking steps to clarify terms in the federal law barring those with certain mental health problems from purchasing firearms following complaints from states that have called the statute ambiguous.

“Today, DOJ is issuing a proposed rule to make several clarifications. For example, DOJ is proposing to clarify that the statutory term ‘committed to a mental institution’ includes involuntary inpatient as well as outpatient commitments,” the White House said in a statement. “In addition to providing general guidance on federal law, these clarifications will help states determine what information should be made accessible to the federal background check system, which will, in turn, strengthen the system’s reliability and effectiveness.”

The Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a rule change to explicitly state that medical providers can provide information to the federal background check system without violating federal medical privacy laws.

“The proposal would give states and certain covered entities added flexibility to ensure accurate but limited information is reported to the [National Instant Criminal Background Check System], which would not include clinical, diagnostic, or other mental health information,” the department said in a statement. “Instead, certain covered entities would be permitted to disclose the minimum necessary identifying information about individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or otherwise have been determined by a lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others or to lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs.”

The technical fixes come as the Obama administration’s efforts to pass additional gun control laws remain stymied by congressional Republicans.