NASW Congratulates President Obama’s Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence

Jan 7, 2016

President Obama this week  issued New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer.

The executive action primarily deals with the sale and exchange of firearms in the United States. While Obama’s executive action will not end the unacceptable level of gun violence in the United States, it is a major and significant step towards reducing the access to guns by those who would harm themselves and others.

Key Provisions

The President’s executive action includes the following key provisions:

  • The Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Administration (ATF) is taking steps to finalize a rule to require background checks for potential buyers of the most dangerous weapons; establish an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking; and finalize a rule to ensure that dealers notify authorities if their guns are lost or stolen in transit.
  • The FBI is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient.
  • The Attorney General directed federal prosecutors to continue to focus on effective enforcement of our gun laws.
  • The Administration is proposing a new $500-million investment to increase access to mental health care.
  • The Social Security Administration will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons;
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is finalizing a rule to remove legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.

Mental Health and Gun Control

Of particular interest to clinical social workers is the proposed new $500 million in funding for mental health. Those dollars are to increase access to mental health care by targeting the seriously mentally ill and increasing the service capacity of the behavioral health workforce.

The section of the executive action that social workers, physicians and psychologist should pay attention to is the plan to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information to the background check system.

The content of this section is as follows:

Although states generally report criminal history information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), many continue to report little information about individuals who are prohibited by federal law from possessing or receiving a gun for specific mental health reasons.

Some state officials raised concerns about whether such reporting would be precluded by the Privacy Rule issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

The Department of Heath and Human Services issued a final rule expressly permitting certain HIPAA covered entities to provide to NIC limited demographic and other necessary information about these individuals.

We are concerned that this could compromise the important protection of confidentiality that HIPAA provides.This provision has a potential for wrongfully reporting persons to NICS.

Therefore, NASW will join other mental health advocates to work with the White House on assurances that the government will develop processes that will give individuals the ability to petition to have their names removed from the gun restriction list.

Gun Safety Research

Many social workers may not be aware that in 1997 Congress expressly forbade the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from conducting empirical research on the causes and prevention of gun violence. This prohibition was the result of intensive pressure from the gun lobby. After the Newtown massacre, President issued an executive order that allowed for CDC to conduct limited data collection on gun violence.

On a whole, President Obama’s New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer was an important step that will hopefully lead to measurable reductions in deaths and injuries from gun violence. However, there are still several steps Congress can take to curb gun violence, which has clearly become a major national public health issue:

  • Ensure President Obama receives the $500 million in funding needed to enhance the nation’s mental health system.
  • Recognize that gun violence is a public health emergency by immediately lifting the ban on CDC by allowing it conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence.
  • Ensure that the states and relevant federal agencies have sufficient funding to monitor gun sales and end illegal sales of guns by enforcing existing and enhanced laws.
  • Work with the Obama Administration and future presidents on sensible gun policies and legislation.

We all should be reminded that over the past decade in America, more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence.

During that period, millions more have been the victim of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving guns.

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died by suicide by using guns. Nearly 500,000 Americans  suffered other gun injuries,and many children are killed or injured by firearms every year, often by accident.

Though we have concerns about what seems to be a weakening of confidentiality protections in the executive action, we support the President’s efforts. It is without a doubt that, as a nation, we must respond to the gun violence crisis.

The president’s New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer is a positive step in that direction.

 For more information contact National Association of Social Workers Social Justice and Human Rights Manager Mel Wilson at