Congress Votes to Revoke Rule Preventing Mentally Impaired from Buying Guns

The rule would add around 75,000 Americans to a list prohibiting gun purchases.
Published: February 20, 2017

Congress has passed legislation that would stop around 75,000 mentally impaired Americans from being added to a background check system used during gun purchases. The measure seeks to revoke a new rule that requires the sharing of certain information about mentally impaired people between government organizations.

With the Senate’s 57-43 vote Feb. 15, the measure was sent to President Donald Trump to sign into law. The president is expected to sign the resolution, reports Newsweek.

The legislation would stop the Social Security Administration, or SSA, from submitting certain mental health information to the FBI that would prohibit around 75,000 people from purchasing firearms.

The FBI runs the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which is used to screen gun purchases.

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The Obama administration had finalized a rule in December requiring the SSA to give the FBI a list of people who receive disability insurance and supplemental security income who rely on someone else to manage their benefits because of a disabling mental disorder.

Republicans argued the rule was an executive overreach and violated the Second Amendment. The National Rifle Association argued that it negatively stigmatized people with mental health disorders as violent.

Groups including the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Federation of Teachers lobbied against the repeal of the rule and argued the majority of Americans support increased mental health screening during gun purchases.

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The rule is an extension of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act that was signed by former President George W. Bush after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. That law was designed to ensure people deemed unqualified to purchase guns could be identified through NICS. A Virginia court had found the Virginia Tech shooter a danger to himself before the school shooting, but the state hadn’t given that information to the NICS.

Obama had proposed the SSA rule in 2015, although it was officially finalized in December. To revoke the ruling, lawmakers used the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to repeal rules issued in the last 60 days.

The NRA applauded the Senate’s vote and characterized the rule as “a bureaucratic directive based on an entirely new reading of a nearly 50-year-old statute by anti-gun zealots who are willing to target a misunderstood and stigmatized population as an intermediate step to disarming America at large.”

Supporters of the rule argued it was an important step toward lessening gun violence and condemned the legislation.

“This heartless resolution puts the most vulnerable Americans at risk,” Brady Campaign President Dan Gross said. “Make no mistake, this vote was really about deepening the gun industry’s customer pool at the expense of those in danger of hurting themselves or others.”

Four Democratic senators and an independent voted with Republicans in favor of the law. It had passed the House of Representatives earlier this month 235-180 largely along party lines.

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