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Rumor Alert: Veterans’ Health and “Sporting Purposes”

Friday, January 6, 2012

Among the thousands of questions NRA-ILA answers every month by email, phone and letter are scores that begin “This guy told me he heard …” Unfortunately, all too often this is the telltale sign of one of the rampant rumors that circulate around campfires or gun store counters, and especially on the Internet.  Three of the most recent top rumors involve veterans’ gun rights, the status of the “sporting purposes” test for firearms importation, and new restrictions on gun shows.

The first of these stems from a widely circulated email, allegedly from a “Vietnam vet and retired police officer,” claiming he visited a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic and was asked several mental health questions.  The message goes on to claim that the nurse told him a “wrong” answer would be “reported … to Homeland Security” and result in the loss of his Right-to-Carry permit.

Fortunately for veterans, that warning was incorrect.  It’s true that mental health questions are now standard procedure during the patient intake process at VA facilities.  That's a result of heightened concern about post-traumatic stress disorder and similar legitimate issues affecting veterans.

However, the Department of Homeland Security isn't the agency that compiles records of people who are prohibited from possessing firearms.  The FBI does that, in order to operate the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.  And although some VA records are reported to NICS, a record will only be reported if the person has been "adjudicated as a mental defective"—in other words, that the person is mentally incompetent.

At the VA, a person can only be found incompetent after a lengthy process that includes the opportunity for a hearing and appeal.  Just telling a nurse you feel "stressed" (as the email claims) wouldn’t be enough.  And the NICS Improvement Amendment Act of 2007 not only makes clear that any "adjudication" without those procedures won't result in the loss of gun rights, but also provides a way for those who have been found incompetent to get the finding reversed.

The second rumor involves a provision in the recently signed fiscal year 2012 Justice Department appropriations bill, which prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from banning the importation of shotguns that are currently legally imported.  (See ILA Report, Feb. 2012.) The provision was prompted by a BATFE “study” that sought to reinterpret the “sporting purposes” test in a manner that would have banned the import of popular hunting, self-defense and target shotguns.

 Unfortunately, some have wrongly concluded that this provision repeals the “sporting purposes” test for importation of all firearms. While the NRA does support a repeal of that unconstitutional standard, the recent bill doesn’t go nearly that far.  The new provision only prevents, at least in the short term, new shotgun bans under the “sporting purpose” language.  Heading off the current ban is cause for celebration, but by no means is the NRA’s work on this issue finished.

Finally, an email has recently circulated claiming that law enforcement officials at a Colorado gun show have told vendors that as of Jan. 1, 2012, only federal firearms licensees would be able to sell guns at shows, and that private citizens would only be able to buy or sell two firearms per year.

This message may be based on a misunderstanding of Colorado law—which does require background checks on firearm transfers at gun shows, but doesn’t prohibit all private sales—or it may just be yet another rumor.  After all, since 1986, the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act has made clear that under federal law, a private individual can “make occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby” without needing an FFL.  NRA-ILA is investigating this issue, and will report any further information of interest in a future issue.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.