Before the Florida VA hospital shooting Wednesday night, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, went to the House floor to argue that a gun control bill to expand background checks would restrict the 2nd Amendment rights of veterans with mental health problems.
On Wednesday at a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, and later on the House floor, Roe, the former chairman and now ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said a clause in the House gun control bill could affect more than a million veterans.
The bill to expand background checks on gun purchases and transfers passed by a vote of 240-190 but is unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Senate. President Donald Trump has already said that he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
On the House floor, Roe said that the bill includes a "little understood" clause that would make it illegal for anyone to possess firearms who has been "adjudicated with mental illness, severe developmental disability, or severe emotional instability." It would also be illegal to sell firearms to such an individual.
"To put this in perspective, there are over 1.6 million disabled veterans with a service-connected adjudication by VA of mental illness, including one million veterans with PTSD," he said.
All could potentially end up on the FBI's NICS list (National Instant Criminal Background Check System), Roe added. He said he offered an amendment in the Rules Committee to exempt veterans, but it was ruled out of order.
"I am concerned that the expanded definition proposed in H.R. 1112 would infringe on the 2nd Amendment rights of over a million veterans, solely because they receive benefits from VA that they have rightly earned through their service to our country," Roe said.
The discussion comes the same week a shooting at a VA medical center in Florida made national headlines. At the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach, Florida, Wednesday evening, a gunman identified by the FBI as Larry Ray Bon, 59, of Michigan, allegedly fired off at least six shots, wounding a doctor in the neck before being subdued.
On Thursday, a statement issued by the Republican side of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on behalf of Roe, a physician and Army veteran, said, "Dr. Roe is aware of what occurred at the Palm Beach Medical center and his thoughts are with all those impacted."
Bon, a double amputee, is believed to be an Army veteran and was at the hospital for mental health treatment, the FBI said. It was not immediately known how he obtained the handgun.
Several previous gun control bills that would have restricted the sale or ownership of firearms to those with mental health issues have been offered, but all have failed.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.