House legislators passed a bill Thursday by 210-175 to prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from reporting certain veterans to the FBI to be put on a “no-gun” list.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has an existing procedure to report “mentally incompetent” veterans to the FBI, which then places them on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, Stars and Stripes reports.
But Tennessee GOP Rep. Phil Roe, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said he thinks a court should instead decide whether the veteran is a danger to themselves first, rather than automatically being put on a list.
Roe also said that the procedure unfairly stigmatizes mental illness and implies that a veteran’s inability to manage his financial affairs, for example, means that he presents a danger to himself or others.
The legislation is called the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act.
Moreover, the VA’s existing system may discourage veterans from seeking care, according to GOP Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia: if the VA rules them mentally incompetent, gun merchants will turn them away once their names show up in the NICBCS.
Others also think there’s a major difference in terms of the level of competence required for owning a gun and managing a bank account.
“What it says [is] if you can’t balance a bank account, you can’t handle a firearm. There is no relation between the two,” GOP Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado said. “So many people have been trapped by this overbroad rule.”
The White House indicated that President Donald Trump will sign the legislation if it passes the Senate.
The gun database, as of December 31, 2016, has the names of 167,815 veterans passed from the VA.
Democrats have widely opposed the bill, pointing out that 20 veterans commit suicide every day. Two-thirds of veteran suicides are committed using a gun, according to data from the VA. The overall veteran suicide rate has jumped by 32 percent from 2001 to 2014.
While Democratic Rep. Mark Takano of California admitted there were veterans on the list who shouldn’t be there, he believes the solution is to create an appeals process, instead of blocking the VA from reporting names altogether.
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