States Sending More Mental Health Records to Gun Database

May 23, 2014 in News

The number of mental health records submitted to a federal gun-purchase background check database has increased threefold from 2011 to 2013, according to a report released Thursday by Everytown for Gun Safety, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s “Politics Blog” reports.

Background on Federal Database

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS,  launched in 1998 and is used by gun dealers to ensure they are not selling weapons to individuals who are prohibited from owning firearms, such as individuals with severe mental health issues and those convicted of felonies (Freedman, “Politics Blog,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5/22).

Many states have declined to release certain information to the NICS, citing prohibitions under HIPAA.

Although HIPAA states that hospitals and agencies are allowed to disclose data when it is required by law, a 2012 Government Accountability Office report found that some states did not have explicit laws requiring state agencies to share patients’ mental health data.

In September 2013, OCR sent a proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget that would ease legal barriers under HIPAA that prevent some states from reporting certain medical data to the database (iHealthBeat, 1/6).

Report Findings

The report found that the spike in state mental health records submitted to NICS contributed to a 65% increase in denials of gun purchases to individuals with severe mental illnesses from 2011 to 2013.

Specifically, it showed that as of Nov. 30, 2013:

  • California had submitted 563,458 mental health records to NICS, compared with 279,589 records submitted as of Oct. 31, 2011;
  • Texas had submitted 229,692 mental health records to NICS, compared with 174,802 submitted as of Oct. 31, 2011;
  • New York had submitted 218,487 such records, compared with 160,092 as of Oct. 31, 2011; and
  • Connecticut had submitted 15,898 records, compared with 11,141 as of Oct. 31, 2011.

However, the report noted that 12 states have each submitted less than 100 records to the database:

  • Alaska;
  • Hawaii;
  • Louisiana;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Montana;
  • New Hampshire;
  • North Dakota;
  • Oklahoma;
  • Rhode Island;
  • South Dakota;
  • Vermont; and
  • Wyoming (“Politics Blog,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5/22).
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