The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today issued a final rule to allow HIPAA-protected mental health data to be shared with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and used to screen gun purchasers.

Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, a provision called the “mental health prohibitor” disqualifies from gun possession those who have been “involuntarily committed to a mental institution; found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity; or otherwise have been determined by a court, board, commission or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others, or to lack the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs as a result of marked subnormal intelligence or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.”

Under the privacy provision of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), covered entities normally withhold any medical information from the FBI as being protected health information. The rule takes effect 30 days after publication, allowing for pertinent mental health information to be shared.