President Obama Creates New Executive Action to Strengthen Gun Background Checks


In January, the Department of Health and Human Services released a draft of a new rule proposed by the Obama administration that could strengthen the system for background checks on gun sales. This rule would help ensure that the system can properly identify any person prohibited from possessing firearms because of severe mental illness. As a part of the process for executive orders to go into place, the Department of Health and Human Services must consider public comment — and that process is now underway. Public comments on this proposed rule to strengthen background checks on gun sales will be accepted through Monday, March 10th.

Under federal law, people become disqualified from purchasing a firearm when they are involuntarily committed to a mental institution or subject to similar procedures because of severe mental illness.  In order for the process to identify these people, however, states have to submit identifying information to the federal background check system.  Some states have been reluctant to submit this information, claiming that the federal privacy laws regarding personal medical information prevent this disclosure.  The proposed rule would make it clear that certain agencies can submit limited information to the background check system without violating federal privacy laws.

The proposed rule also includes strong protections for the privacy of the mentally ill.  More specifically, it clearly limits the disclosure that would be allowed in three ways:

  • Speaker:  Only entities with lawful authority to make decisions that cause individuals to become prohibited from possessing firearms, or that serve as repositories of this information for reporting purposes, would be permitted to disclose this information;
  • Message:  The disclosure would be restricted to identifying information (name, birthdate, etc.) and would not include medical records, or diagnostic or clinical information; and
  • Audience:  Entities would only be allowed to disclose this information to the federal database used for firearm purchaser background checks, or to a state agency for the purpose of reporting to that database.  The information would not be made public or disclosed to any other person.

The Obama administration, particularly the Department of Health and Human Services, should be commended for drafting the proposed rule, which strikes the proper balance between public safety and the privacy interests of the mentally ill. The Law Center supported the new rule to strengthen background checks by submitting a comment, stating that this proposed rule will remove ambiguity and help states submit the appropriate records into the background check system, which could prevent suicides and save countless lives from unnecessary gun violence.

However, the gun lobby has attacked this reasonable and responsible action, sending a large number of gun activists to object to this proposal. Show the administration that the public supports such important steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands by visiting the federal commenting portal today

The Mind, Madness and Gun Violence at the Commonwealth Club – NOVEMBER 1, 2012

The Mind, Madness and Gun Violence
Thursday, Nov 1 2012 – 6:00pm
The Commonwealth Club, San Francisco

A loaded gun in the hands of an unstable person wreaked havoc almost 20 years ago at 101 California Street in downtown San Francisco. Nine people died and scores of lives were forever shattered.  In the decades since, mass shootings continue to occur across America: Columbine High, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek – most of them with legal weapons, many in the hands of a mentally ill person. How can we predict and prevent violent acts in those who are mentally ill? What is the medical profile of a mentally ill person capable of carrying out this kind of violent act? How do the state and federal laws protect the rights of mentally ill persons and the community at large? The Commonwealth Club will examine these challenging questions with an expert panel, including Carol Kingsley, Board Member of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Joining the Panel:

Renée L. Binder, M.D., University of California, San Francisco Medical School; Psychiatrist; Professor; Founder and Director, UCSF Psychiatry and the Law Program
Carol Kingsley, Attorney/Mediator; Board Member, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Her husband Jack was among those killed at 101 California Street in 1993.
Mark Follman, Senior Editor, Mother Jones, focused on politics and national security. This past summer, Follman led an in-depth data investigation into mass shootings following the incidents in Aurora, Colorado and Wisconsin.
Robert J. McMenomy, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Francisco Division, headquarters and field agent investigating and managing criminal, counterterrorism and administrative matters
John Diaz , Editorial Page Editor, San Francisco Chronicle – Moderator

The Commonwealth Club is offering a few complementary tickets to Law Center members. Call our office today for your tickets! 415.433.2062 x309.

For more information, visit the Commonwealth website.

If you’re not able to attend but are curious about the discussion, you may be able to listen to it on national radio. Follow this link for more information on all the stations that air the program.

Debate Night:
When It Comes to Guns, Candidates’ Silence Speaks Volumes

We can expect to hear President Obama and Mitt Romney discuss a variety of issues in their first head-to-head debate Wednesday night, but will they talk about guns? With the debate taking place at the University of Denver – located just a short drive from both Aurora and Columbine High School – and with 100,000 Americans killed or injured every year with firearms, you’d think it would be impossible to avoid the topic. Shockingly, though, neither candidate has offered much leadership about solutions to our gun violence epidemic, even as mass shooting tragedies like last Thursday’s workplace shooting in Minneapolis continue to occur with an alarming frequency.

Around the country, concerned Americans are calling on Denver debate moderator Jim Lehrer to ask the candidates about gun violence. But what exactly should Lehrer ask? It would be too easy for both candidates to offer facile condolences and platitudes without the right questions, so here are three questions that both candidates ought to answer about keeping our communities safe from gun violence.

1. Virtually everyone agrees that people should be required to pass criminal background checks before getting their hands on guns. How would you help close the loopholes that allow dangerous individuals to legally buy firearms without fulfilling this basic requirement?

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Major Victories in California: Governor Brown Signs Three Crucial Bills to Prevent Gun Violence!

The Law Center applauds California Governor Jerry Brown for signing three important pieces of legislation to help keep communities across California safe from gun violence. Governor Brown signed:

  • AB 809 (Feuer), co-sponsored by the Law Center, which will help law enforcement solve and prevent gun crimes by requiring the California Department of Justice to retain copies of sales records for rifles and shotguns, as it already does for handguns;
  • AB 144 (Portantino), which will prohibit the open carrying of unloaded handguns in public places statewide; and
  • SB 819 (Leno), which will enable the Department of Justice to use firearm sales fees to fund programs to disarm convicted criminals and the mentally ill

The governor’s signing of these three bills is a major victory for public safety in California. We commend Assemblymember Feuer, Assemblymember Portantino, and Senator Leno for their outstanding leadership on these critical issues, and we are grateful for the tireless efforts of our coalition partners statewide.

We also thank you, our members and supporters, for your calls to the Governor urging him to sign AB 809. Your voice makes a difference!

Your support helps ensure that California continues to lead the nation in strong laws to prevent gun violence.

California Legislature Adopts the Law Center’s Critical -Supported Bills

The Law Center is pleased to report overwhelming success in the California Legislature this year, with four important bills now headed to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Our co-sponsored bill AB 809 (Feuer) would help law enforcement solve gun crimes and protect public safety by requiring the Department of Justice to retain copies of sales records for rifles and shotguns, as it does now for handgun records.

In addition:

    • AB 144 (Portantino) would prohibit the open carrying of unloaded handguns in public places statewide;
    • SB 819 (Leno) would enable the California Department of Justice to use firearm sales fees to fund programs to disarm convicted criminals and the mentally ill; and
    • SB 427 (De León) would enhance the state’s 2009 handgun ammunition recordkeeping law.

Your support enables us to provide critical technical expertise and advocacy in support of these and other important measures. By championing innovative legislation like the bills above, the Law Center and our coalition partners statewide are working to ensure that California’s gun laws remain the best in the nation.The Law Center’s Summary of 2011 California Firearms Legislation has more information about all of the firearm bills considered by the state legislature this year.

AB 809 and SB 819 Would Help Get Guns Out of the Hands of Criminals and the Mentally Ill

On Tuesday, June 21, 2011, two critical bills to help law enforcement disarm convicted felons, domestic abusers, and the mentally ill advanced in the California Legislature. Currently, Californians who lawfully purchased handguns before they became prohibited from possessing firearms are identified in the state’s Armed and Prohibited Persons (APPS) database. As ABC7 News recently reported, the APPS database is a crucial tool to get guns out of the wrong hands. APPS sweeps conducted this month alone recovered 1,209 guns from 1,011 prohibited persons.

AB 809 (Feuer), which passed the Senate Public Safety Committee, would require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to retain copies of sales records for rifles and shotguns, as DOJ currently does for handguns. Co-sponsored by the Law Center, AB 809 would significantly expand the APPS database, enabling law enforcement to identify prohibited owners of long guns, as well as handguns.

The Law Center also strongly supports SB 819 (Leno), which passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. SB 819 would enable DOJ to use funds acquired from firearm sales fees for APPS enforcement efforts. The APPS database presently contains the names of approximately 18,000 Californians illegally in possession of over 34,000 handguns, making APPS funding a critical public safety priority.

The Law Center testified in support of both bills in Tuesday’s committee hearings and will continue to advocate for their passage as they proceed forward. For more information about all of the important firearms bills advancing in the California Legislature, see our Summary of 2011 California Firearms Legislation.