The White House unveiled the plan of the Obama Administration to strengthen gun control, particularly by keeping guns away from mentally ill people. The executive action declaration made on Tuesday, Jan. 5, states that numerous gun-related crimes in the U.S were made by people who should not have owned a firearm in the first place.

While the administration said that not all people with mental illness are the perpetrators of the crimes, and that they may in fact be the victims, it still stressed the importance of highlighting the need to improve how Americans manage mental illnesses. With this, it announced key steps to help curb gun violence in relation to mental health.

Increased Access To Mental Health Care

Despite the recent improvements seen on mental health services, less than 50 percent of adults and children are able to receive the treatment they require. The Obama administration, therefore, proposes a new budget of $500 million to address this issue.

Through the said fund, the administration hopes to engage patients with serious illness to warranted care, amp up service capacity and behavioral health workforce and guarantee that behavioral health systems work for everyone.

Enhanced Background Checks

The administration said it will include data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in performing background checks about beneficiaries who are not allowed to possess a firearm.

At present, the law forbids individuals from purchasing a gun if they can be a danger to themselves or to others or are not able to manage their own affairs due to mental health problems.

Now, the SSA has announced that it will start drafting rules to ensure that appropriate data in its files are reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). NICS was created by the Congress to prevent gun purchase of prohibited individuals.

SSA data will most probably include about 75,000 people every year, who have a recorded mental health issue, have received disability benefits and are unable to manage these benefits due to mental difficulty or are declared by state or federal court to be legally incapable.

The SSA rulemaking will also entail a strategy for people to look for relief from federal restriction on owning a firearm due to mental health-related reasons.

Take Away Legal Barriers From Enhanced Background Checks

Gun sellers are torn between reporting prohibited individuals and complying with the Privacy Rule under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The number of reported individuals remains low due to this uncertainty, but the Department of Health and Human Services has issued a final rule imploring certain HIPAA covered sectors to provide required information to NICS.

Medical Professionals' Take

Ron Honberg, the legal director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said majority of people with mental health issues are not violent. In fact, he said that more often than not, they are the victims.

Honberg said studies show that mental health illnesses minimally increase the likelihood of violence. With this, he encourages the formulation of new laws based on scientific research.

Despite the negatives, Honberg thinks the move to focus on mental health is good, overall. "We're seeing a heightened interest in mental health in Congress from both sides of the aisle," he said. "The infusion of new resources is very helpful."

For Dr. Liza Gold, a forensic psychiatrist from Georgetown University Medical Center, enhanced background checks performed on individuals simply because they have mental health problems is discriminatory.

"There is no evidence that this is a category of people who are at risk of committing gun violence," she said.

Photo: David Pacey | Flickr

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