WASHINGTON — Five members of the Democratic caucus sided with Republicans Wednesday to roll back an Obama-era gun control regulation aimed at Social Security recipients.
Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, plus independent Sen. Angus King of Maine crossed the aisle to vote in favor of the resolution.
The Senate passed HJ Resolution 40, which reversed a last-minute regulation established by the Social Security Administration in December 2016 that allowed the agency to give information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) on recipients of disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if the government concluded they were mentally unstable.
Those supporting the resolution argued the Social Security Administration rule was written too broadly and would ensnare those who were not dangerous to the public. Gun control organizations argued that repealing the rule would more easily place guns in the hands of mentally ill individuals.
“Repealing this regulation will ensure that disabled citizen’s Second Amendment rights are protected. Those rights will no longer be able to be revoked without a hearing and without due process. It will take more than the personal opinion of a bureaucrat,” said Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, leading sponsor of the resolution in the upper chamber.
“An existing statute requires agencies to report individuals to the gun ban list who are ineligible to possess firearms. That requirement remains intact even if this regulation is repealed. So it is plainly wrong to claim, as has been said, that if the regulation is disapproved, agencies will no longer have to report prohibited persons,” he said.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, said on the floor, “For months I have been listening to President Trump and Republicans talk about gun violence in the City of Chicago — so what are they doing to save lives in Chicago and across the nation? Nothing. Instead, Republicans are trying to weaken the federal background check system used to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”
“This law was passed unanimously by Congress after the Virginia Tech massacre and signed into law in 2008 by President George W. Bush,” said Durbin. “The reality is that gun laws on the books are narrowly drawn when it comes to mental illness.”
The resolution passed the Senate 53-47. A partner resolution has already passed the lower chamber along party lines 229-178.
Fox News noted that a Veterans Affairs program works similarly to the Social Security rule. The VA submitted the names of veterans to the background check system when it was determined they could not manage their own financial affairs. More than 257,000 military veterans were reported to be unable to handle their money, and a 2012 Congressional Research Service report showed that 99.3 percent of all names submitted for background checks came back as “mental defectives.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also sought the repeal of the rule as well.
“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 and should not own a gun. There is no data to support a connection between the need for a representative payee to manage one’s Social Security disability benefits and a propensity toward gun violence,” said the ACLU in a statement.
“Here, the rule automatically conflates one disability-related characteristic, that is, difficulty managing money, with the inability to safely possess a firearm,” the organization said.