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ATF and HHS propose new mental health, background check gun rules

Eric Holder signs ATF rulemaking proposal.
Eric Holder signs ATF rulemaking proposal.
@TheJusticeDept on Twitter

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Department of Health and Human Services each had proposed rulemaking changes published Tuesday in the Federal Register as part of Obama administration executive actions to further restrict the eligibility requirements for lawful possession of firearms. Among other changes, the ATF proposal would include those with involuntary outpatient commitments among prohibited persons, and the HHS notice would eliminate state privacy restrictions about sharing the identities of individuals.

An “Amended Definition of ‘Adjudicated as a Mental Defective’ and ‘Committed to a Mental Institution’,” signed by Attorney General Eric Holder on January 2, and a notice of proposed rulemaking titled “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS),” signed on December 31 by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, are the latest moves by an administration intent on accomplishing through the executive what the people’s representatives in the legislature have not enacted.

While “gun control” advocates are positioned to exploit opposition to the rule changes as obstruction of “common sense” gun laws, many valid concerns must be identified and explored, and there is a provision for doing that through public feedback.

The comment period for the ATF proposal extends to 90 days, and will end on April 7. Comments may be submitted via the online form at

The comment period for the HHS proposal will end in 62 days, on March 10. Comments can be submitted via an online form at

As with all such comment opportunities, it is important to provide observations and concerns that will be practically and legally useful, particularly if enacted rules ignoring legitimate concerns provoke legal challenge. This column will monitor gun rights groups and other sources with the intent of sharing their analyses and recommendations for effective communications. That will include protections against mental health “blanket dragnets,” ensuring rights have been protected in all “adjudications” resulting in a firearms disability, and verifying valid and affordable means exist for having recognition of rights restored.


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When your turn to be tested comes, how will you fare? Wouldn’t it be better to stop the antis before they get that far? How can we, if most gun owners let a relative handful of activists do all the work? The latest GUNS Magazine "Rights Watch" column is online, and you can read it before the issue hits the stands. Click here to read "The Unconstitutional State.”