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Obama administration proposes new executive actions on gun background checks

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting on curbing gun violence at the White House in Washington January 10, 2013.(Reuters)

The Obama administration on Friday proposed two new executive actions to make it easier for states to provide mental health information to the national background check system, wading back into the gun control debate after a months-long hiatus. 

Vice President Biden's office announced the proposals Friday afternoon. Both pertain to the ability of states to provide information about the mentally ill and those seeking mental health treatment to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. 

One proposal would formally give permission to states to submit "the limited information necessary to help keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands," without having to worry about the privacy provisions in a law known as HIPAA. 

"The proposed rule will not change the fact that seeking help for mental health problems or getting treatment does not make someone legally prohibited from having a firearm," the statement said. "Furthermore, nothing in the proposed rule would require reporting on general mental health visits or other routine mental health care, or would exempt providers solely performing these treatment services from existing privacy rules." 

The other proposal would clarify that those who are involuntarily committed to a mental institution -- both inpatient and outpatient -- count under the law as "committed to a mental institution." According to the administration, this change will help clarify for states what information to provide to the background check system, as well as who is barred from having guns.   

The statement from Biden's office claimed these changes would help ensure that "better and more reliable information" makes its way into the system. 

Republican Senator. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said Friday night she applauded "the administration’s efforts today to make it easier for states to comply with the law requiring the submission of certain mental health records into the NICS system to ensure that those who are adjudicated dangerously mentally ill are prohibited from purchasing a firearm.”

Over the past year, the administration has been trying to get states to offer up more data for that system, after failing to pass legislation to expand the background check infrastructure. 

The administration made a robust effort to pass gun control legislation after the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., but the bills, which included new bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, failed to gain enough support in Congress.

In the Friday statement, President Obama and Biden renewed their call for Congress to pass "common-sense gun safety legislation" -- including by expanding the background check system and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

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