US & Canada

Obama proposes gun control measures for mentally ill

US President Barack Obama appeared at the White House in Washington, DC, on 20 December 2013
Image caption President Barack Obama, shown in a file photo, has repeatedly called on Congress to pass stricter gun control laws

US President Barack Obama's administration has announced measures aimed at limiting access to firearms for the mentally ill.

The changes clarify ambiguous regulations and allow hospitals to provide more information for background checks, officials said.

The actions come more than one year after the Newtown school shooting, which sparked a national gun debate.

Mr Obama's push for stricter gun controls stalled after the incident.

'Dangerous hands'

In a statement released on Friday, the White House said the two new actions "will help strengthen the federal background check system and keep guns out of the wrong hands".

The first proposed regulation, from the Department of Justice, aims to clarify who is prohibited under federal law from possessing a firearm for reasons related to mental health.

That change includes clarifying the term "committed to a mental institution" to include involuntary inpatient as well as outpatient commitments, the White House said.

The second proposed action, brought by the Department of Health and Human Services, lifts certain privacy provisions preventing states from forwarding relevant information to the background check system.

The change could give medical entities covered by federal health privacy law permission to disclose "limited information necessary to help keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands", the White House said.

"The proposed rule will not change the fact that seeking help for mental health problems or getting treatment does not make someone legally prohibited from having a firearm," the White House said.

'Most important step'

The proposed changes follow the one-year anniversary of the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six school staff members were killed.

The perpetrator is believed to have had severe mental health issues at the time of the crime.

Mr Obama proposed several federal gun control measures in the wake of the shooting, including tightening the background check system to make it harder for convicted criminals to buy guns, but Congress declined to act under pressure from the powerful gun lobby.

He has continued to press Congress for further restrictions, although sceptics note that if the murder of 20 children failed to goad Congress to action, it is unclear what could.

"Passing common-sense gun safety legislation - including expanding background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime - remains the most important step we can take to reduce gun violence," the White House statement concluded.

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