Submission of Mental Health Records to NICS and the HIPAA Privacy Rule [February 20, 2014] [open pdf - 470KB]
"Questions about the scope and efficacy of the background checks required during certain firearm purchases have gained prominence following recent mass shootings. These background checks are intended to identify whether potential purchasers are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms due to one or more 'prohibiting factors,' such as a prior felony conviction or a prior involuntary commitment for mental health reasons. Operationally, such background checks primarily use information contained within the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and a particular focus of the debate in Congress has been whether federal privacy standards promulgated under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (i.e., the HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] Privacy Rule) or state privacy laws are an obstacle to the submission of mental health records to NICS. […] In February 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its intention to amend the HIPAA Privacy Rule to remove any potential impediments to state reporting of some mental health records to NICS, and on January 7, 2014, HHS issued its proposed rule that would modify the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also issued a proposed rule that would clarify the terms 'adjudicated as a mental defective' and 'committed to a mental institution.'"
CRS Report for Congress, R43040