America’s veterans helped protect us. Now we can ensure they themselves are not arbitrarily denied the right of self-protection.
On Wednesday, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs marked up and favorably reported H.R. 1181, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, sponsored by Committee Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN). The bill now moves to the full U.S. House, where a vote could come as early as next week.
H.R. 1181 is meant to deal with a longstanding and shameful practice by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which administers disability benefits for veterans and their families. Under this practice, anyone who the VA declares “incompetent” to manage his or her own benefits and assigns a fiduciary is automatically reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as a prohibited “mental defective.” The person is then subject to a lifetime ban on the acquisition and possession of firearms, unless he or she successfully petitions for “relief from disabilities.”
As of Dec. 31, 2016, the NICS contained 167,815 active records submitted by the VA under this program.
The VA’s program suffers from a number of legal and practical issues.
Above all, it does not attempt to identify which beneficiaries have mental illnesses that actually cause them to be a danger to themselves or others. Rather, it merely targets individuals who have been identified as needing help to manage their benefits. Yet there is no scientific or empirical evidence to support the idea that needing help managing money is the same thing as being too dangerous or irresponsible to safely handle a firearm.
Second, the statute on which the reporting is based prohibits firearm acquisition or possession by persons who have been “adjudicated” as a “mental defective.” While these terms are not defined in the statute, the purely bureaucratic process by which a fiduciary is assigned – which in most cases does not involve a hearing, much less a judge – is hardly the sort of procedure most would consider an “adjudication.” And the only issue at stake is whether the person needs help with his or her finances. It does not affect rights other than under the Second Amendment, including the right to form legally binding contracts, vote, hold office, serve on a jury, etc.
While the VA does theoretically make “relief” available after the fact, few of the beneficiaries affected by the program have the means to negotiate the highly bureaucratic process, which may also require expensive mental health evaluations and legal aid. The procedure also turns due process on its head by forcing the petitioner to prove by a high standard of evidence that he or she is not a risk to public safety, a premise the government was never required to establish in the original “adjudication.”
The VA’s own records showed that as of April 2015, only 3% of relief petitions had been granted. And the decision makers considering the petitions are the same sorts of VA bureaucrats who made the original fiduciary determination, not an independent judge or magistrate.
H.R. 1181 would change all this by ensuring that the VA could only report a beneficiary to NICS as prohibited “mental defective” if a judicial authority had already made a finding that the person is a danger to self or others. This would ensure due process, as well protect those who simply need help managing their finances but are not at increased risk of committing a dangerous act with a firearm.
President Trump signed a measure into law last month that prevented the Social Security Administration from going through with a plan to implement a similar reporting system for certain of its Disability or Supplementary Security Income beneficiaries assigned “representative payees.”
And the House had passed a bill to halt VA’s program in 2011, which eventually died in the Senate.
Action to stop this unconscionable infringement of veterans’ Second Amendment Rights is long overdue.
Please contact your congressional representative NOW and respectfully ask him or her to vote YES on H.R. 1181, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act. You can call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your representative’s office, or you can send an email using our Take Action tool.
America’s veterans answered the call to serve for the good of all. Now is your chance to ensure their rights are protected. Don’t delay. Please call or write your representative today.