Obama moves rule to tighten background checks on gun buys

The Obama administration is moving to shore up the federal criminal background check system as part of the president’s effort to curb gun violence — with or without help from Congress.

A proposed rule meant to improve the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has landed at the White House Office of Management and Budget for review, records show.

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The database is meant to keep guns out of the hands of felons, drug abusers, the severely mentally ill and others who are prohibited from owning firearms. But most states have declined to release certain information to the system, citing restrictions under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that prevent them from sharing medical records.

While details of the rule now under consideration have not been released, the administration said in January that it would “begin the regulatory process to remove any needless barriers” preventing states from sharing records.

It is not clear how soon the rule will be released. It has not been designated as economically significant, meaning the regulations would cost less than $100 million to implement.

The action is one of 23 measures that Obama announced in response to December’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. White House officials have said progress has been made on the majority of the other steps.

The regulatory action comes as chances of passing significant gun control legislation through Congress appear increasingly slim. 

The Senate is poised to take up legislation that would expand background checks on gun purchases, but it is unclear whether it can muster the support to win approval in the upper chamber. 

Three Senate Republicans have warned they will filibuster the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decided against including a new ban on certain semi-automatic weapons with military features within the measure. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other gun control supporters will now press for a vote on the Senate floor on the so-called assault weapons ban and new limits on large-capacity magazines.