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Providing for Congressional Disapproval under Chapter 8 of Title 5, United States Code, of the Rule Submitted by the Social Security Administration Relating to Implementation of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (Public Law 115-8) Download PDF

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Repeals the rule that required the Social Security Administration to report persons with certain mental disabilities to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Updated last June 28, 2017
for Public Law 115-8.
What it does 

Public Law 115-8 employs the Congressional Review Act of 1996 (CRA; section 251, Public Law 104-121) to repeal a Social Security Administration (SSA) rule (81 FR 91702; SciPol brief available) that required the SSA to report certain people with mental health disabilities to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). NICS is utilized by licensed firearms dealers to carry out mandatory background checks on persons attempting to purchase guns; these background checks may lead to a denial in purchasing firearms.

The original rule, which was implemented under the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, applied to individuals with specific mental health disabilities who were receiving Social Security payments. The rule required that the SSA list those individuals, who were previously judged by the SSA as “mental defective[s],” in NICS so that they could not purchase, possess, or transport firearms. Public Law 115-8 invalidates that listing requirement, meaning those individuals cannot be listed in NICS solely on the basis of their mental health status as defined by the SSA.  

Relevant Science 

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection concluded that in 2014, 33,594 people died in the United States from injuries caused by a firearm. Firearms accounted for 16.8% of all injury-related deaths that year, with 63.7% of all firearm-related deaths being suicides and 32.8% being homicides.

As a means of reducing these firearm-related deaths and injuries, some policymakers have turned to the restriction of guns for those individuals with mental illnesses. A 2013 study showed that 46% of Americans believe those with serious mental illnesses are significantly more dangerous than others, and that 85% of Americans want mandatory background checks for individuals who have received involuntary psychiatric treatment or who have been declared mentally incompetent by a court.

But despite these public opinions, research suggests that individuals with mental disabilities tend not to exhibit higher rates of gun violence than those without. A 2016 study found that persons in Florida with various, serious mental health disorders between the years of 2002 and 2011 were not any more likely to harm others with a gun than any adult in the general population. The study also found that those with serious mental health disorders were also only slightly more likely than the general adult population (13 per 100,000 people versus 9 per 100,000 people) to commit suicide using a firearm. Mental illness was found to substantially increase the risk of suicide, but did not increase the likelihood for a person to use a gun to carry out a suicide.

Likewise, another study published in 2009 found that mental illness does not predict future violent behavior. This study concluded that only 4% of interpersonal violence can be independently attributed to mental illness of any kind. This data coincidences with statistics provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, which reports that only between 3% and 5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals with severe mental health disabilities.


The enactment of Public Law 115-8 was carried out through the Congressional Review Act. This act allows Congress to revoke regulatory rules issued by federal agencies through an expedited joint resolution of disapproval. Such disapprovals must be enacted into law by the President, or Congress must override a presidential veto. The act also prohibits a reissue of the rule in a modified form once it has been disapproved. Notably, Congress may only disapprove a rule via the CRA process within 60 congressional session days (i.e., days that Congress is in session) of the rule’s issuance.

Prior to 2017, Congress had used the CRA only once since the law’s enactment to successfully invalidate a rule, although many additional attempts failed to pass either chamber or were vetoed by the President. In 2017, however, Congress and the President used the CRA to overturn fourteen rules, including the firearms rule discussed here.

Endorsements & Opposition 


  • Speaking about the rule that Public Law 115-8 repeals, National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Cox stated in an interview: “The Obama administration’s last minute, back-door gun grab would have stripped law-abiding Americans of their Second Amendment rights without due process.”
  • The American Civil Liberties Union also wrote about the repealed rule in a letter to Congress: "We oppose this rule because it advances and reinforces the harmful stereotype that people with mental disabilities, a vast and diverse group of citizens, are violent.”
  • Duke University researcher Jeffrey Swanson stated in an article, “As a researcher on firearms policy and mental health, I opposed the rule when it was first established. It wasn’t supported by evidence, and it was far too broad.… [D]espite its good intentions, what the policy actually does is take away the gun rights of a large category of individuals without any evidence that they pose a risk of harm to self or others, and without legal due process protections commensurate with abridging a constitutional right.”


  • Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT-5) stated in an interview:  "The House charged ahead with an extreme, hastily written, one-sided measure that would make the American people less safe.”
  • Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) stated on the Senate floor: “But the risk here is not just that an individual is going to buy a gun and use it themselves. The risk is that someone who can’t literally deposit their own paycheck probably can’t, or likely can’t, responsibly own and protect a gun.”

Signed into law on February 28, 2017 by President Donald Trump.


Sponsor: Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX-3)


Primary Author 
Hayley Farless
Nicole Kastelic; Andrew Pericak, MEM
Recommended Citation 

Duke SciPol, “Providing for Congressional Disapproval under Chapter 8 of Title 5, United States Code, of the Rule Submitted by the Social Security Administration Relating to Implementation of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (Public Law 115-8)” available at (06/28/2017).

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