Veterans no longer able to handle their finances would need a judge's ruling that they were "mentally defective' before losing their 2nd Amendment rights to buy firearms under a bill that passed a House committee last week.
"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," House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican, said in a statement.
"This common sense bill would ensure no veteran or beneficiary is declared 'mentally defective' simply because they utilize a fiduciary," Roe said.
Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs automatically refers a vet's name to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) when they have a fiduciary trustee appointed to oversee their financial affairs.
The bill that passed the Committee, called the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, would bar the VA from considering a vet who is assisted by a fiduciary as "mentally defective" without a magistrate or judicial authority ruling that the beneficiary is a danger to themselves or others.
The bill was opposed by Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Connecticut Democrat and the ranking member of the Committee. She said that the proposed legislation would have the opposite effect of that intended by its Republican backers.
"This bill puts at risk the very veterans who need our help the most," Esty said. "With more than 20 veterans dying by suicide per day, the vast majority by firearm, today's legislation would make it easier, not harder, for those veterans in crisis to get access to a firearm. This bill would set a nearly impossible standard for the VA to prevent a veteran who is at risk of harming themselves or others from purchasing a gun."
However, Rep. Brad Wenstrup said the issue was preventing "bureaucratic overreach" from impinging on the 2nd Amendment rights of veterans.
"For the men and women who have worn the uniform of this country to be denied the very constitutional freedoms that they fought for is unconscionable," Wenstrup said. "Veterans shouldn't be forced to choose between utilizing the resources they've earned at the VA and exercising their 2nd Amendment rights."
Esty countered by citing statistics from a 2015 VA report to Congress on the 170,00 veterans at the time whose names had been shared with NICS.
Of those on the list, 19,522 were diagnosed with schizophrenia; 15,171 were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; 11,084 were diagnosed with dementia; 5,462 had Alzheimer's; and 3,981 had serious depression, Esty said.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com