Department of Justice takes steps to strengthen federal background check system for firearms transfers
The Department of Justice announced last week it is proposing a regulation that will clarify who, due to mental health reasons, is prohibited under federal law from receiving, possessing, shipping or transporting firearms. In addition to providing general guidance on the federal law, this clarification will help states determine what information may be appropriately shared with the federal background check system for firearms transfers — the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) — in order to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others.
The revised definition clarifies that the statutory terms “adjudicated as a mental defective” and “committed to a mental institution” include persons who are found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect; persons lacking mental responsibility or deemed insane; and persons found guilty but mentally ill, regardless of whether these determinations are made by a state, local, federal or military court. The proposed regulation also clarifies that the statutory term includes a person committed to involuntary inpatient or outpatient treatment.
“We are taking an important, commonsense step to clarify the federal firearms regulations, which will strengthen our ability to keep dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “This step will provide clear guidance on who is prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law for reasons related to mental health, enabling America’s brave law enforcement and public safety officials to better protect the American people and ensure the safety of our homes and communities. And it is emblematic of the Justice Department’s broader commitment to use every tool and resource at its disposal to combat gun violence and prevent future tragedies while respecting the constitutional rights to which all Americans are entitled.”
The NICS background check system is a critical tool in keeping guns out of the hands of those who cannot legally have one. To date, NICS has prevented more than two million guns from falling into the wrong hands. In order for background checks to continue to be effective, the system must have access to relevant, correct and complete information.
Clarifying the existing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulation is just one of many common-sense steps the department has taken to keep guns out of the wrong hands. The department is working diligently to reduce gun violence and is committed to using every tool at its disposal, including implementing effective prevention, enforcement and re-entry strategies. In addition, the department is working with other federal departments and agencies to ensure relevant information is shared with the NICS and has also provided monetary support to states to improve their abilities to share this information.