In a press release issued on January 3, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that “as part of President Obama’s continuing efforts to reduce gun violence…HHS…issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to remove unnecessary legal barriers under …HIPAA…that may prevent states from reporting certain information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).”

The press release indicates that states are under-reporting information to NCIS, which “helps to ensure that guns are not sold to those prohibited by law from having them,” and cites a 2012 GAO report which found that only 17 states had submitted fewer than 10 records of individuals prohibited from owning a gun, including felons, those convicted of domestic violence, and individuals involuntarily committed to a mental institution.

The NPRM intends to modify the HIPAA Privacy Rule to allow HIPAA covered entities to disclose the identities of persons prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm because of reasons related to mental health to NICS. Basically, it will allow providers to disclose that someone has been involuntarily admitted to a mental institution or is a danger to themselves or others.

The proposed rulemaking would not allow the disclosure of mental health visits or routine mental health care, including clinical or diagnostic information to NCIS. However, it would allow providers to disclose “the minimum necessary identifying information about individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or otherwise have been determined by a lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others or to lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs.”

Comments to the NPRM can be submitted to