National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Congress Passes Gun Reporting Law
Law Retains Vague, Stigmatizing Language, but Creates Means for Expunging Names
December 21, 2007
Just before adjourning for the holidays, the U.S. Senate passed a bill, the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (HR 2640), to provide incentives to states to report the names of certain people with mental illnesses who are prohibited from purchasing guns. The House passed the bill several months ago and President Bush is expected to sign it into law.
Since 1968, federal law has prohibited certain categories of people, including persons "adjudicated as mental defectives" from owning or purchasing guns. In 1998, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was established as a way to instantly provide gun shop owners with the names of those prohibited from purchasing firearms. The NICS system is maintained by the FBI.
In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings earlier this year, it was revealed that many states have not been reporting names to the NICS system and that some of these states do not have adequate systems in place to comply with reporting requirements. HR 2640 is intended to strengthen reporting by providing states with resources to develop reporting systems and by penalizing states that continue to fail to report names to the NICS system.
What does HR 2640 require?
The new law authorizes grants to states to create or improve systems for reporting the names of individuals who are prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms, including people who are involuntarily
HR 2640 addresses some but not all of NAMI’s concerns.
The version of HR 2640 passed this week by the Senate contains some compromises and modifications to the original bill. In testimony provided last summer at a hearing on federal gun reporting laws, NAMI expressed a number of concerns about HR 2640 including:
NAMI is pleased that some progress has made on HR 2640, but we remain concerned with certain aspects of the bill, particularly that the criteria for inclusion on the list and for removal from the list is vague and confusing, and therefore creates potential for misinterpretation and misapplication of the law.
In the coming weeks and months, NAMI will be working to clarify how the law is to be implemented and to ensure that the perspectives and concerns of consumer and family advocates are considered as federal regulations are developed. We will further inform you about key provisions in the bill and how grassroots advocates can impact on implementation at state levels of this new law.
Click here for a copy of HR 2640.