President Obama’s recent executive orders on mental illness and gun safety are small but welcome steps to tighten federal regulations to help prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands. The orders represent the White House’s latest attempts to take action to reduce gun violence in light of the failure of Congress to do so.
The first order, through the Justice Department, clarifies language regarding mental health and background checks by expanding the definition of “committed to a mental institution” to both involuntary outpatient as well as inpatient programs. The order also clarifies that “adjudicated as a mental defective” and “committed to a mental institution” applies to people found unable to stand trial due to mental illness, found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity, and found guilty but mentally ill.
The second order, through the Department of Health and Human Services, eases patient privacy protection regulations regarding mental health and background checks. It gives healthcare providers the option to provide information regarding a patient’s mental health on a gun purchase background check.
“We welcome President Obama’s latest executive actions to allow more effective sharing of relevant mental health information with the states which will help strengthen the federal background check system by keeping guns out of the wrong hands,” said Leah Gunn Barrett, Executive Director of NYAGV. “But we can’t begin to seriously address our epidemic of gun violence until Congress acts to extend background checks to all gun sales,” she added.