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House Passes National Gun Reporting Law

June 15, 2007

The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 identifies certain categories of people who are prohibited from possessing firearms.  These categories include people who have been “adjudicated as a mental defective or “committed to any mental institution.”

Despite this law, the majority of states have never tracked or reported this information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which maintains the National Instant criminal Background Check System (NICS). 

On June 13, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives enacted HR 2640, the “NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007.”  The bill reflects a compromise agreement between supporters of stronger gun reporting laws and the National Rifle Association (NRA).  The intent of HR 2640 is to strengthen gun reporting laws by providing states with financial incentives to comply with reporting requirements and penalties for failure to comply with reporting requirements.

NAMI agrees with the principal that violent or potentially violent individuals should not possess guns.  However, we have repeatedly expressed concerns that the 1968 law is vague, outdated, overly broad and stigmatizing.  Thus, we have urged the sponsors of HR 2640   to use this opportunity to fix the problems in the underlying law.   Please click here to read NAMI’s letter with colleague organizations on this topic.

In fairness, HR 2640, as enacted, did attempt to address some of NAMI’s concerns.  For example, there is language stating that criteria should be developed to enable individuals to have their names removed from the list, although this language is unclear and non-specific. And, the bill directs the Attorney General to work with states, local law enforcement and the mental health community to develop regulations for protecting the privacy of information provided to the NICS system.  It is also important to note that contrary to some of the reports in the media, the bill does not require states to report the names of all people who have received mental health treatment.    

Nevertheless, problems with the legislation and particularly the underlying 1968 gun control law remain.  The definition of who must be reported remains vague and unclear, without any clear link to violence.  There are no durational limits in the definition, meaning someone who was involuntarily committed 20 years ago with no recurrence might be included.  And, despite the aforementioned attempt to strengthen privacy protections, it is still unclear in the law what information should be reported and the extent to which individuals and agencies that receive this information must guard its privacy.     

HR 2640 now goes to the Senate for further consideration and NAMI will continue  efforts to promote further changes to minimize over-inclusiveness in reporting requirements as well as strengthen privacy protections in the NICS reporting system.      

Click here to read Ron Honberg's written testimony presented on gun reporting laws.

Click here to read a summary of HR 2640. Click here to read the full text of HR 2640.