A bill moving through Congress that could make it easier for veterans who can be considered mentally incompetent to carry a firearm has pitted those concerned with high suicide rates among veterans against others who say they have been unfairly stigmatized.
Under federal law, veterans who have been assigned fiduciaries – people who manage their finances – can be deemed mentally incompetent. Backers of the H.R. 1181 Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act say that the law has been applied too broadly against veterans who remain fit to carry a firearm.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), prohibits the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from sending the name of an individual to the FBI for inclusion on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), unless there has been a specific determination by a judge, magistrate or other judiciary authority that such individual is a danger to themselves or others.
Under a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program, the agency appoints a fiduciary. In this case, the VA notifies the veteran that the department proposes to determine if the beneficiary is incompetent and may need a fiduciary. The beneficiary has the right to request a hearing.
Such a hearing only reviews evidence that informs a judgment about whether or not a beneficiary is capable of managing his or her VA benefit payments. The hearing does not address whether the beneficiary presents a danger to themselves or others or if the beneficiary should be prohibited from purchasing, possessing or operating a firearm.
That means the agency also can classify veterans as mentally incompetent and submit their names to the FBI for inclusion in the NICS database, banning them from buying or owning a firearm or ammunition.
Charles Schmidt, national commander of the American Legion, which supports the bill, said in a Newsweek column that it merely transfers the power “to strip a veteran of their 2nd Amendment rights” from the federal government to the courts.
According to the bill’s sponsor, “The freedoms granted by the Constitution” should apply to all Americans – especially the men and women who have been willing to risk their lives to protect those freedoms. This common sense bill would ensure no veteran or beneficiary is declared “mentally defective” simply because they utilize a fiduciary.