WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Friday announced two executive actions to try to strengthen federal background checks and prevent guns from ending up in the hands of mentally ill people who pose a danger to others.
The Department of Justice proposed a regulation to clarify who is prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons. Officials believe that will help states determine what information can be shared with the background-check system to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people who are considered potentially violent.
In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a regulation to loosen legal barriers that may prevent states from submitting information on the mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The NICS system is used to check the backgrounds of those who buy guns from a federally licensed gun dealer in order to ensure that they are not legally prohibited from owning a gun.
The administration’s two new executive actions will help ensure that better and more reliable information makes its way into the background check system, the White House said in a statement. 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 such as homicide or suicide.
In recent years, several mass shootings have been linked to gunmen with a history of mental illness, including 20-year-old Adam Lanza who killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012; and Jared Loughner, who killed six people and injured 13 others, including former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords nearly three years ago in Tucson.
Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who was shot and injured in Tucson, praised President Barack Obama’s actions for going a long way to make the system better, but said that congressional action is still needed to prevent felons and certain people with mental illness from getting guns.