Pistols and rifles that have been turned in at a gun buyback event are viewed at the Bridgeport Police Department's Community Services Division on December 22, 2012 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. (Photo: Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is seeking broader measures that would prohibit the mentally ill from buying and possessing firearms.
In a plan unveiled Friday, the Justice Department is requesting that current prohibitions related to mental illness be extended to those found incompetent to stand trial, people found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect and others "lacking mental responsibility."
The Justice Department's "revised definition,'' Attorney General Eric Holder said in a written statement, seeks to clarify current rules that prohibit gun sales to those who have been adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to a mental institution.
"We are taking an important, common sense step to clarify the federal firearms regulations, which will strengthen our ability to keep dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands," Holder said. "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''
At the same time, the Department of Health & Human Services issued a related proposal to that would modify privacy rules that may be blocking some states from providing the FBI's National Instant Check System with the information about people who may be prohibited from possessing guns because of mental illness.
According to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report, cited by HHS, 17 states had submitted fewer than 10 records relating to prohibited people because of mental illness.
"There is a strong public safety need for this information to be accessible to the NICS, and some states are currently under-reporting or not reporting certain information to the NICS at all," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "This proposed rule-making is carefully balanced to protect and preserve individuals' privacy interests, the patient-provider relationship and the public's health and safety.''
The new proposals come in the wake of a string of deadly shootings involving mentally unstable attackers, including the 2012 Newtown, Conn., school massacre and the September Navy Yard shootings in Washington, D.C. The Newtown shootings, which left 20 children and six administrators dead, launched a campaign for new gun control measures by the Obama administration, but key components of that plan -- including proposals for universal background checks on gun sales and a new ban on assault weapons -- failed.
National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the group would withhold comment until it had further reviewed the proposals.