Medical Privacy Laws Could Hamper Bill on Gun Sales
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are sponsoring legislation in Congress that would push states to report all mental health records to a federal database used to conduct background checks on gun buyers, but state medical privacy laws could hinder the effort, the New York Times reports.
Federal law prohibits anyone from buying a firearm who has been found to be a "mental defective," or who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. However, because of state medical privacy laws, only 22 states submit any mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the federal database used to check potential gun buyers.
The database as of January 2006 contained about 235,000 mental health records, although an estimated 2.7 million people have been involuntarily institutionalized nationwide.
The legislation before Congress would offer federal funding to states to automate mental health records and expedite their transmission to the federal database. The legislation also would withhold a portion of federal financing for a crime-prevention program from states that fail to comply.
The measure is co-sponsored by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a former board member of the National Rifle Association.
Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA, said, "We're strongly in support of putting those records in the system."
Mental health advocates oppose the legislation because they say that disclosing the records might discourage people from seeking treatment for a mental illness (Luo, New York Times, 5/2).