Key Senate lawmakers are once again pushing legislation to stop veterans judged unable to handle their own finances from being barred from owning firearms.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, and Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., would require that veterans first are found to be a danger to themselves or others before losing their Second Amendment rights. Today, a veteran deemed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to be incapable of handling his own finances is included on the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS – which means he cannot own a firearm, nor can anyone else in the household, Burr said.
"There are veterans, spouses, family members who are deprived of their Second Amendment rights … based on an arbitrary decision by somebody at VA because they can't handle their own personal finances," Burr said Wednesday at a committee hearing. "These people are labeled as dangerous when it may be a physical disability that may not allow them to handle their personal finances."
VA estimates that about 127,000 veterans have been put on the list because the department determined they couldn't handle their personal finances.
A similar bill has already passed the House of Representatives.
In the Senate, the "Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act" has been filed at least three times before, going as far back as 2007. The version filed in 2009 was opposed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which argued that it could cause guns to wind up in the hands of unsafe people.
The Brady Campaign had criticized Burr's legislation "in light of the Fort Hood shootings." Attorneys for the accused attacker, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, claim he is mentally ill.
Burr's bill died in committee.
Burr, Webb and others backing the bill say no veteran should lose his or her gun rights without an order by a judge, magistrate or other judicial authority competent to make the call on whether the person is dangerous.
At Wednesday's hearing, VA officials said that is not a determination made by department officials who assess a veteran's ability to look after his finances.
Tom Murphy, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration's compensation service, said those who make the call on veterans are trained only to assess how well they're able to handle finances.
Richard Hipolit, assistant general counsel for the VA, said, "Our determination is just whether [someone] can handle financial affairs, and that automatically triggers the requirement to refer their names" to the NICS list.