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Obama takes action on gun background check

WASHINGTON -- Blocked by Congress from expanding gun sale background checks, President Barack Obama is turning to actions within his own power to keep people who are prohibited for mental health reasons from buying a gun.

Federal law bans certain mentally ill people from purchasing firearms, but not all states are providing data to stop the prohibited sales to the FBI's background check system.

The Obama administration was starting a process yesterday to remove barriers in health privacy laws that prevent some states from reporting.

The Health and Human Services Department was beginning to ask for public comment on how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, is preventing some states from submitting information to the background check system and how to address the problem.

Under HIPAA, health care providers such as hospitals may release limited information to police, but only in certain circumstances such as when a court is involved.

The Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 spurred passage of legislation that required states to submit the records or eventually risk losing up to 5 percent of the federal funding they receive to fight crime. -- AP

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