Health Care

Federal Grab for Mental Health Records Sparks Opposition by Medical Groups

Obama wants it for his gun control schemes


An Obama administration proposal to speed the flow of mental-health records into the national gun background-check database has run into opposition from medical groups and state authorities, threatening another element of the flagging effort to strengthen federal gun controls in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.

The debate involves a plan by the Department of Health and Human Services to amend a federal privacy rule. The amendment would expressly allow state mental-health authorities to transmit records of anyone who has been declared mentally unfit by a court or other authority to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The proposal is aimed at easing reluctance to supply such records among authorities in states that haven't specifically allowed it, as well as clarifying that the related federal privacy law doesn't interfere with the production of mental-health information in states that have.

Doctors' groups and others contend the proposal is unnecessary and could lead to a breakdown in doctors' relationship with patients, who may come to fear that their medical information is no longer guarded.