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On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1181, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, sponsored by Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate.
H.R. 1181 in many respects mirrors a recently enacted resolution to repeal an Obama-era Social Security Administration (SSA) rule that sought to deprive certain SSA beneficiaries of their Second Amendment rights.
A federal statute prohibits firearm acquisition or possession by anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective.” The statute, however, does not define the meaning of this term.
Like the SSA, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) interprets the phrase very broadly. It considers any VA beneficiary who is declared “incompetent” to manage his or her benefits and assigned a fiduciary for assistance to be a prohibited “mental defective.”
This is even broader and more arbitrary than the invalidated SSA rule. That rule at least excluded beneficiaries who were minors or of retirement age and applied only where the underlying condition that qualified the person for Disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income was itself a mental condition.
The VA’s practice, however, has no such limitations. It applies to all beneficiaries receiving benefits for any reason who are assigned a fiduciary. The VA’s position is that an admission or finding that a fiduciary is needed is tantamount to an “adjudication” that a person “lacks the mental capacity” to “manage his own affairs.”
But in most cases, these decisions are summary bureaucratic actions. They very rarely involve a hearing, much less lawyers or judges. So calling them an “adjudication” is inaccurate.
It’s also false to claim that needing help with finances is the sort of “mental defectiveness” Congress intended would prevent a person from being eligible to exercise his or her Second Amendment rights.
Mental health experts warn that there is no connection between financial acumen and a person’s ability safely and responsibly to handle a firearm. That point was made again and again in the context of the debate on the SSA bill.
Thus, the same arguments against the SSA rule apply just as strongly, if not more so, against the VA’s regime.
In other words, the VA’s regime is unconstitutional; inconsistent with the underlying statute; unsupported by science or empirical evidence establishing any link between financial acumen and the ability to safely and responsibly handle firearms; and harmfully stigmatizing. It also serves as a deterrent for vulnerable people who need help and benefits from seeking them.
In addition to all that, it presents the bitter irony of being targeted directly at the very people who bore the cost for the freedoms that all Americans enjoy.
The Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act would correct these deficiencies by ensuring that no beneficiary could be reported to NICS as a prohibited “mental defective” unless a judicial authority (such as a judge or magistrate) first determined the person to be a danger to self or others.
That leaves options in the case of a person experiencing an acute episode of dangerous mental illness, while also ensuring that veterans are not arbitrarily denied their rights without due process of law.
Meanwhile, the media is whipping up the usual frenzy about Congress “giving guns” to the “mentally ill.”
Even the self-styed legal experts from The View got in on the act, going so far as to encourage their viewers to contact their congressional representatives to object. Their comments on the bill and its effects, unsurprisingly, were rife with misunderstanding and misinformation.
Due process, as well as Second Amendment rights, are fundamental liberties that all Americans enjoy. They are exactly the sorts of rights for which America’s veterans have sacrificed so much. The fact that the VA would infringe them in this manner is a national disgrace and one that is long past due for correction.
The NRA thanks Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), as well as Chairman Roe, for their leadership in this critical effort.
The U.S. Senate should swiftly follow their lead and send the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act to President Trump’s desk.