President Obama clearly believes what Nixon once said, that if the president does it, it’s not illegal. Now, he’s trying to circumvent the law that helps protect patient privacy in order to restrict millions of Americans from buying firearms.
President Barack Obama said he wants to see state governments contribute more names of people barred from buying guns to the database, part of a sweeping set of executive actions he announced after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December.
The database, called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, is used by gun dealers to check whether a potential buyer is prohibited from owning a gun.
States are encouraged to report to the database the names of people who are not allowed to buy guns because they have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, or have been found to have serious mental illnesses by courts.
Many states do not participate. So the administration is looking at changing a health privacy rule – part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – to remove one potential barrier.
Here’s the problem with that. You see, the law actually prevents people who have been adjudicated from owning firearms. It says nothing about specific diagnosis. It requires a court to determine an individual is unfit to own firearms.
President Obama seeks to skirt two laws in one fell swoop.
Unsurprisingly, gun rights advocates have reacted, sending thousands of letters to the Health and Human Services Department. However, the department also received a number of comments from health professionals.
Health care professionals are sympathetic to Obama’s goal of reducing gun violence, but worry that the privacy rule proposal could discourage people with mental illness from seeking treatment.
“I think it’s a bad idea. It would really put a chill on people getting services,” said Daniel Fisher, who was treated for schizophrenia decades ago, recovered, and became a well-known psychiatrist and mental health advocate in Massachusetts.
“They find it very scary, the idea of a national database that the government will keep,” Fisher said.
They’re probably right. This is especially true of combat vets who may be struggling with PTSD. Many of these are dealing with relatively minor cases, and are no threat to anyone, yet may worry their right to own firearms will be infringed as a result of seeking mental health treatment.
However, right now these individuals are protected by HIPAA. That’s something that Obama apparently just can’t handle.