Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today announced her strong opposition to a bill that would weaken the FBI’s firearms and explosives background-check system and make it easier for individuals with severe mental illness to purchase guns.
“It’s unbelievable that one of the first priorities for Republicans is to pass a bill that makes it easier for individuals with severe mental illness to buy guns,” said Senator Feinstein. “Gun violence is an epidemic in this country, but Republicans are making it harder to take even the most basic steps to improve enforcement of current law—in this case a law signed by a Republican president. There appears to be no limit to what they will do for the gun lobby.”
Following the Virginia Tech shooting, President George W. Bush in 2008 signed the bipartisan National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Act to improve recordkeeping in the FBI background-check system and help ensure the inclusion of individuals prohibited from purchasing weapons. If prohibited purchasers attempt to buy weapons at federally-licensed gun dealers, they are denied only if their name appears in the system.
To implement this law, the Social Security Administration in 2016 finalized a rule requiring the agency to report to the FBI individuals who are determined to have a severe mental impairment that prevents them from managing their own affairs. This determination is made following an extensive review of medical evidence, which takes place before the person is approved for Social Security disability benefits.
The majority of individuals with mental illness do not commit acts of violence and they would not be affected by this rule. The rule covers only individuals with serious conditions, including schizophrenia, who need additional assistance to manage their affairs. Under federal law, individuals determined to have severe mental illness are prohibited from possessing guns.
Under this bill, the Social Security Administration would be prohibited from ever taking action to implement the NICS Improvement Act.