The White House is fighting to keep people who are collecting Social Security benefits from owning guns if they believe the recipients are unable to manage their own affairs. This move has the power to impact millions who rely on monthly disability payments. The push is intended to bring the Social Security Administration in line with laws regulating who gets reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which is used to prevent gun sales to felons, drug addicts, immigrants in the country illegally and others. This was first reported by CNN on Tuesday.
Federal gun laws define the targeted group as those who are unable to manage their own affairs due to “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.” If Social Security, which has never participated in the background check system, uses the same standard as the VA, millions of its beneficiaries would be affected. About 4.2 million adults receive monthly benefits that are managed by “representative payees.” The move is part of a concerted effort by the Obama administration after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., to strengthen gun control, including by plugging holes in the background check system.
White House critics are blasting the plan saying that expanding the list of people who cannot own guns based on financial competence is wrongheaded. The ban, they argue, would keep guns out of the hands of some dangerous people, but would also include people who simply have a bad memory or have a hard time balancing a checkbook. The background check system was created in 1993 by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, named after White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was partially paralyzed after being shot in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.
The law requires gun stores to run the names of prospective buyers through the computerized system before every sale. The system’s databases contain more than 13 million records, which include the names of felons, immigrants in the U.S. illegally, fugitives, dishonorably discharged service members, drug addicts and domestic abusers. After hearing about Obama’s latest attack against the second amendment, the NRA issued a statement from its chief lobbyist, Chris W. Cox, saying: “If the Obama administration attempts to deny millions of law-abiding citizens their constitutional rights by executive fiat, the NRA stands ready to pursue all available avenues to stop them in their tracks.”
President Obama was previously unable to push through Congress stricter background check laws for gun buyers in 2013, but through executive orders, the Social Security Administration could threaten to cut off benefits by adding millions to the NICS. Opponents of the plan maintain that the implementation of such a background check system might identify some people who would be dangerous, but it also could unfairly exclude large numbers of people who pose no real danger to themselves or others from gun ownership — they might just have a bad memory or difficulty balancing a checkbook.
Someone can be incapable of managing their funds but not be dangerous, violent or unsafe,” Marc Rosen, a Yale psychiatrist who has studied veterans with mental health problems, told the Los Angeles Times. “They are very different determinations.” In addition, Rosen said, some [people] may avoid seeking help for mental health problems out of fear that they would be required to give up their guns.
The Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, now under consideration in the House, would require only a court to determine that somebody poses a danger before being reported to the background check system. Since 2008, VA beneficiaries have been able to get off the list by filing an appeal and demonstrating that they pose no danger to themselves or others. But as of April, only nine of 298 appeals have been granted, according to data the Times received from the VA. Thirteen others were pending, and 44 were withdrawn after the VA overturned its determination of financial incompetence.