Senators: V.A. has denied gun rights to more than 100,000 veterans

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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They pledged to support and defend the Constitution, but the office of North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr says more than 100,000 U.S. military veterans may be being improperly denied one of the most fundamental rights they swore to protect.

Military veterans whose Veterans Affairs benefits are managed on their behalf by appointed fiduciary trustees are deemed “mentally defective” and reported to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a computerized database which prohibits them from purchasing firearms.

Sen. Burr is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs. His office told The Daily Caller that around 114,000 veterans have been reported to the NICS and are unable to purchase firearms.

Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, any person determined by a government authority to lack the mental capacity to manage his or her own affairs is subject to being prohibited from buying a gun.

The VA’s review process for assigning a fiduciary, however, determines veterans’ ability to manage their finances — not whether they are a danger to themselves or others. the VA assigns fiduciaries to handle disability compensation, pensions, survivors’ compensation and other VA government payments veterans’ behalf.

Sen. Burr, a Republican from North Carolina has joined with Democrat Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia to introduce the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, which would require a judicial authority to determine whether VA beneficiaries pose a danger to themselves or others before they can be added to the FBI’s NICS database.

“As a matter of fairness, a veteran should be permitted to purchase a firearm under the same conditions as every other American,” said Sen. Webb. “This bipartisan bill ensures consistent guidelines are used for reporting citizens to the FBI, and that no veteran is needlessly stripped of their Second Amendment rights.”

In various forms, the bill has languished in Congress for several years now, but the House passed one version last Tuesday. The legislation has the support of the National Rifle Association.

“These are good, honest men and women. They are not a danger to themselves, or to others, and it is wrong to deny them their constitutional freedom,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “This bill addresses this issue and rightly ensures that veterans and their family members aren’t prohibited from having guns unless they’ve been found to be dangerous.”

A VA spokesperson said that while the goals of bill were laudable, the VA sees it as unnecessary.

“We understand and appreciate the objective of this legislation to protect the firearms rights of veterans determined by VA to be unable manage their own financial affairs,” the spokesperson said. “But we believe adequate protections can be provided to these veterans under current statutory authority.”

The VA currently has two options for a veteran to challenge an incompetency determination. He or she can reopen the issue based on new evidence and have the determination reversed. Veterans can also petition VA to have their firearms rights restored on the basis that they pose no threat to public safety.

“Although VA has admittedly been slow in implementing this relief program, we now have relief procedures in place, and we are fully committed going forward to implement this program in a timely and effective manner in order to fully protect the rights of our beneficiaries,” the spokesperson added.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a pro-gun control group, has staunchly opposed the legislation in all of its forms. Acting Brady Campaign president Dennis Henigan said the bill on its face “poses a severe threat to public safety.”

“The standard that that the VA has announced and the ATF has approved has to do with mental incapacity,” Henigan said. “I have no reason to doubt that the names that have been submitted by the VA to the NICS meets those standards. There are very strong due process protections built into the VA process, which is what the ATF has found for many years.”

The VA also contends that the new legislation would create a double standard.

“By exempting certain VA mental health determinations that would otherwise prohibit a person from possessing or obtaining firearms under Federal law, the legislation would create a different standard for veterans and their survivors than that applicable to the rest of the population and could raise public safety issues,” the VA spokesperson said.

More than 7.6 million Social Security beneficiaries are assigned fiduciaries, but the Social Security Administration does not forward any of those names to the NICS.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano named military veterans as a potential threat in a 2009 memo describing the threat of homegrown terrorism.

“The return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks,” the memo stated.

Napolitano quickly apologized.

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