The White House on Friday announced two new executive actions it said would “strengthen the federal background check system and keep guns out of the wrong hands.”
The moves are the latest steps by the Obama administration to bypass Capitol Hill and tighten gun control after legislation faltered in Congress last year.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is proposing a regulation to clarify who is prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law for reasons related to mental health, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing a proposed regulation to address barriers preventing states from submitting limited information on those persons to the federal background check system,” said the White House in a statement.
The proposed DOJ rule would clarify the term “committed to a mental institution” in federal law. Some states have said the term is ambiguous and limits their ability to prohibit some individuals with a history of mental illness from purchasing firearms.
The administration will broaden the understanding of the term to cover “ involuntary inpatient as well as outpatient commitments” for the mentally ill.
The Department of Health and Human Services will also propose a rule allowing groups covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to share information with the federal background check system essential to keeping guns out of “potentially dangerous hands.”
Health providers had expressed concerns that the act’s privacy protections prevented them from sharing information on potential gun purchasers.
“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, touting the two actions.
“The administration also continues to call on Congress to pass common-sense gun safety legislation and to expand funding to increase access to mental health services,” the statement added.
A mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December 2012 sparked a renewed debate over the nation's gun laws. President Obama pushed for tougher background checks, and bans on the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition.
A bipartisan Senate measure on background checks, however, failed to muster enough support and conservatives in the GOP-controlled House refused to act on the issue.
Obama tasked Vice President Joe Biden with overseeing a task force to review the nation’s gun laws and propose remedies, and enacted a number of those recommendations through executive actions.
In an interview after another mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard last September, Obama said he was still committed to tougher gun control, but said the next steps must come from Capitol Hill, blaming Republicans for blocking action.
"Ultimately, this is something that Congress is gonna have to act on," said Obama. "I've taken steps that are within my control. The next phase now is for Congress to go ahead and move."